Teetotaling LDS farmers grow barley for beer

Religion • LDS senator from Idaho is even seeking tax break to save money for brewers.
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Boise • Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, might seem like an unlikely person to be pushing a bill to cut federal taxes on small beer-makers: a Mormon, he abstains from alcohol.

But Crapo's effort — with senators from Oregon, Massachusetts and Maine — illustrates the deep bond between Idaho Mormons and the beer industry.

LDS farmers raise barley for Budweiser and Negra Modelo beers, and last year, Mormons in the Idaho Legislature helped kill a plan to raise beer and wine taxes to fund drug treatment, fearing it could hurt farmers.

Crapo touted the tax cut for brewers during a recent appearance at the Portneuf Valley Brewing Co. in Pocatello and said his position is simple: He won't impose his own religious beliefs on others, especially when it could affect a growing industry.

"The [Idaho] wine industry is growing, too," he told The Associated Press. "I'll probably get asked to help the wine growers out. And I probably will."

Most Idaho barley is grown in the southeastern part of the state, where more than 70 percent of the population belongs to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The Utah-based faith teaches members to avoid alcohol and urges public policies that establish "reasonable regulations to limit overconsumption, reduce impaired driving and work to eliminate underage drinking."

In Utah, policymakers also appear to be softening. Then-Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., a Mormon, and the LDS-dominated Legislature normalized liquor laws last year by abolishing the Beehive State's distinctive private-club system.

Even so, Idaho's Mormon barley farmers acknowledge an ambiguity in what they grow.

"I've often wondered about the correctness of doing it," said Scott Brown, president of the Idaho Grain Producers Association and a Latter-day Saint who grows barley on 5,000 acres near Soda Springs. "But somebody is going to grow it, whether members of the LDS Church do."

Idaho is the No. 2 barley-growing state behind North Dakota, and three-fourths of the nearly 50 million bushels produced by its farmers last year went to malters — and beer.

Crapo's bill would cut the federal excise tax on brewers' first 60,000 barrels of beer in half to $3.50, saving brewers up to $210,000 a year. While Idaho has just 17 craft breweries, signs of its beer industry are impossible to overlook.

Anheuser-Busch's barley-malting plant outside Idaho Falls juts into the sky, and Grupo Modelo, Mexico's largest brewer, completed an $84 million malting facility in Idaho Falls in 2005. Great Western Malting Co. has operations in Pocatello that supply brewers and distillers worldwide.

Coors has bought barley from Idaho's LDS growers for nearly four decades.

"I know of some LDS growers who won't raise malt barley, because they know it's ultimately destined for malt brewers," said Kelly Olson, Idaho Barley Commission administrator. "But, by and large, most farmers make planting decisions based on economics."

Still, Mormon scholars said there is a tension for those aiming to balance LDS principles and economic pragmatism.

The ethical question, said Armand Mauss, a professor emeritus in sociology and religious studies at Washington State University, is this: "As long as the personal behavior and beliefs of the church member are in accordance with the teachings of the church, is he free as a church member to engage in commerce which is legal but which has the effect of promoting behavior that the church disapproves of?"

Clark Hamilton, a Mormon farmer originally from Utah, was harvesting 3,000 acres of barley near Ririe last week. The golden, rice-size cereal grain was destined for companies that make Natural Light and Corona beers. He has heard the question before.

"People will look at me and say, 'You're a Mormon, why do you grow barley?' " he said. "I just don't have a problem with it. I don't think people who drink beer are bad." —

From Joseph Smith's teachings

"Inasmuch as any man drinketh wine or strong drink among you, behold it is not good. ... And, again, strong drinks are not for the belly, but for the washing of your bodies."

Doctrine and Covenants 89: 5, 7