"It was cool all summer. We really had only one real hot day," said Louis Arnold, who farms in the Esmond area. "Barley likes 80 degree weather and some moisture, and it was all perfect this year."
Arnold, who has been farming nearly half a century, said he has had good fields of barley through the years but never an overall crop like he had this year.
He said his total crop averaged 80 bushels per acre. "That's never happened," he said.
In eastern North Dakota, Arnold wasn't alone.
"While the barley crop looked good in general in the east, yields were higher than expected," said Steve Edwardson, administrator of the North Dakota Barley Council. "Some growers were only expecting yields in the 70 to 75 bushel per acre range, but were receiving yields in the 80 to 90 bushel per acre range.
"The cool summer, coupled with timely rainfall, had a positive impact on production in eastern North Dakota," he said.
That was enough to boost the Agriculture Department's Sept. 30 North Dakota barley production estimate 23 percent from the August forecast. The estimate of 86.2 million bushels is 11 percent higher than 2007, and nearly double the production of two years ago, when low prices soured many farmers on the crop.
Not all farmers enjoyed in this year's barley bounty. Edwardson said some farmers in the dry western part of the state had crops that did not warrant harvesting. That pushed the state's average yield down to 56 bushels per acre, the same as last year.
Barley is primarily used to make beer and feed livestock. North Dakota is the nation's largest barley-producing state, typically accounting for more than a third of the total U.S. crop.
Arnold said production has risen the past couple of years because of higher prices.
"We've been telling the maltsters that for years - if we get a good price we'll raise it," he said. "That's what happened the last two years."
Nationally, the barley crop is estimated at 239 million bushels, up 13 percent from 2007. Arnold said he does not think the larger crop will hurt prices, because barley prices must remain strong to head off competition for acres from other profitable crops like corn and soybeans.
"I think barley is going to be a pretty good crop again next year," Arnold said.