Virginia grain growers have gone from a wait-and-see attitude about growing barley to one of real interest following ground-breaking for a 60 million gallon a year barley-powered ethanol plant in Hopewell, Va.

Osage Bio-Energy, the company building the ethanol plant, has quietly gone about spreading interest in barley production among farmers on both sides of the James River. Premium prices promised for barley looks like a good option to the constantly vacillating wheat market.

Osage-Bio Energy recently turned up the interest level among Virginia farmers by announcing the Barley Bin Builder Yield Contest contest. Not only is the company focusing attention on the alternative grain crop, it is putting some resources into the project.

The Barley Bin Builder Yield Contest is geared to reward growers for high yields with their 2009 crop. If construction of the Hopewell plant continues on schedule, the company will begin buying barley in 2010.

To increase farmer interest in regional barley production, the Barley Bin Builder Yield Contest will award $1,000 by state to the farmer entry with the highest barley yield per acre within a seven state region that includes Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Maryland, Delaware and Kentucky.

Second and third place awards of $750 and $500 also will be presented by state.

Perdue AgriBusiness and Virginia Farm Bureau are co-sponsoring the contest. In addition to $1,000 award winners in each state, the overall winner will win a flex-fuel powered pickup truck as the grand prize.

The yield contest coincides with Osage Bio Energy’s planned construction of bio-processing facilities in the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic. Once operational in 2010, the facilities will work with regional grain elevators to purchase barley for bio-energy production.

“The Barley Bin Builder Yield Contest will reward high-yielding farmers in the region who help ramp up the barley production that Osage Bio Energy will need starting with the 2010 crop season, as we bring our facilities into production in 2010,” said Joel Stone, chief operating officer of Osage Bio Energy LLC.

“The contest also allows farmers to demonstrate effective crop and soil management capabilities. We hope regional farmers will share our goal of developing high-producing barley crops as we build the barley market in the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic,” Stone said.

“Perdue is excited about the opportunity barley brings to farmers in the region,” said John Ade, Perdue AgriBusiness vice-president of grain sales and merchandising. “Adding value to growers’ crops and supporting renewable energy is good news for agriculture.”

“The Virginia Farm Bureau Federation is pleased to co-sponsor the Barley Bin Builder Yield Contest in Virginia and assist in the development of farm opportunities in agriculture-based bioenergy,” stated Wayne Pryor, president of the Virginia Farm Bureau Federation.

“We look forward to partnering with Osage Bio Energy and in laying the groundwork for barley as a food and fuel cash crop,” he adds.

Each of Osage Bio Energy’s two bio-processing facilities will provide over $100 million in agricultural economic opportunities, offering farmers a consistent and viable market for barley. And, because barley can be double-cropped with soybeans, farmers can also increase soybean yields by choosing barley.

“We have the potential to reach barley yields in excess of 120 bushels per acre,” said Wade Thomason, Virginia Tech Extension grain specialist. “The Barley Bin Builder Yield Contest gives us a great opportunity to investigate the full potential for high-yielding barley under good management conditions,” he adds.

Stone notes that over four million acres of crop land lays fallow over the winter in the seven state region. Just 20 percent of the fallow farm land, at an average yield of 100 bushels of barley per acre, could produce enough barley to fuel the Hopewell plant and three other barley-based ethanol plants in the plans for Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina.

The primary affect of adding up to a million acres of barley will be to increase the number of double-crop soybean acres. One of the big advantages of growing barley is that it is typically harvested 10 to 14 days earlier than wheat. Subsequently, the earlier planting date for soybeans eliminates much of the yield lag associated with double-crop beans behind wheat.

Contest details and application forms for the Barley Bin Builder Yield Contest can be obtained by contacting local cooperative Extension specialists and grain officials.

e-mail: rroberson@farmpress.com