Barley acres planted by Virginia farmers this year are almost double what they were last year.

According to the National Agricultural Statistics Service, Virginia producers planted 105,000 acres of barley in 2010 compared to 67,000 acres in 2009.

David Coleman, grain manager for the Virginia Farm Bureau Federation, attributes the increase to the opening of Osage Bio Energy’s plant in Hopewell. At Appomattox Bio Energy, barley will be converted into ethanol, which will be distributed to local markets and used as a blend in gasoline.

The plant is expected to be up and running this summer, said John Warren, Osage director of government relations and project development.

Until this year, most barley grown in Virginia was used for livestock feed, Coleman said. "Traditionally, there hasn’t been much of a market for barley, but now with Osage opening, there is a market for it." However, Coleman added, because it’s a new venture, some farmers are taking "a wait and-see approach."

The plant eventually will need 30 million bushels of barley a year to produce about 65 million gallons of ethanol. Virginia farmers average 74 bushels per acre, Coleman said, so they could potentially plant 400,000 acres of the crop to meet Osage’s need.

This year the company will buy as much Virginia barley as possible and will supplement it with supplies from other mid-Atlantic states.