It did not take much effort to find two farmers willing to plant malt barley for Food21’s Pilot Project. (It should be noted that Food21’s initial foray into the malt barley cultivation was boosted by the author’s existing relationship with the Heinnickel and Slezak families).
Fred Slezak - Lone Maple
Fred Slezak is President of Lone Maple Farms, a century old family farm and Lone Maple Agricultural Services, a custom planting, applicator and harvesting. company.servicing over 2,000 acres of crops annually. Fred is a Penn State grad and a certified crop advisor and has held board positions at the Westmoreland Conservation District, the PA Farm Bureau and the PA No Till Alliance.
Food21’s Farm to Tap project comprised of two 25-acre test plots of spring barley planted in March and April of 2020. Food21 used the 1900 pounds of certified Odyssey Barley Seed it purchased and tasked these two farms with growing the barley. The first farmer was Fred Slezak, a certified crop specialist and the owner of Lone Maple Ag Services.
Fred‘s family has been farming for over 100 years, and he manages over 2,000 acres of cropland. The second farm participating in the pilot was Heinnickel Farms. The Hennickel family primarily produces beef, but they also raise commodity crops such as corn, soybeans, and oats. Their total operation also covers roughly 2,000 acres.
These farmers agreed to oversee the entire process from seedbed preparation through harvesting. As part of Food21’s agreement with the two farms, they could also sell the straw to help recoup some of their costs. The results of the cultivating portion of the pilot project were mixed. Weather played a significant role in harvest amounts. Though the two planting sites were less than five miles apart, rainfall timing and amounts differed greatly.
The Lone Maple site never quite got enough rain and underperformed expectations, delivering roughly 18 bushels of barley per acre with a crop that averaged 20 inches in height. (Experienced spring barley farmers told us that 40 bushels per acre would be a good crop.) The barley from this site was used for animal feed.
Keeping in mind the below average rainfall, the Heinnickel plot fared better. This crop was appeared more robust and healthier. These observations proved to be true as the average per bushel yield came in at 38 and met all malt barley testing specifications. Not a world record, but satisfactory, nonetheless.