When decision-makers at Milwaukee, Wis.-based Proximity Malt went on the hunt for a Mid-Atlantic location, they struck gold on the Delmarva Peninsula. An abandoned feed mill in Laurel boasted concrete bins that were perfect for the company’s purposes.
But the malt company, which was started in 2015, appreciated the area for more than the storage tanks.
“Delaware gives us access to winter malting barley, which has not been used a lot in the brewing, distilling and food space,” says Amy Germershausen of Proximity’s sales and marketing department. “We think it has a lot of potential.”
The Delmarva and Chesapeake Bay region is brimming with brewpubs and breweries that can benefit from locally grown and malted barley.
It is also full of local farmers who are already growing barley. Traditionally, however, it’s been used in chicken feed. “I had no idea there were so many chickens in Delaware,” Germershausen says.
According to the Delmarva Poultry Association’s figures, farmers in the Delmarva area raised 605 million chickens in 2017 — up 7 percent from 2007 — with a wholesale value of $3.4 billion. Meeting the demand for feed requires a lot of farms.
“We just needed to work with them on changing some of the varieties that they grew, and once they had that down, on improving the quality for malting,” Germershausen says.
It’s easy to see the appeal for Delmarva farmers. The crop is planted in October and harvested in early June, which allows them to reap the rewards of multiple harvests. While growing over the winter, the crop also helps prevent soil erosion. “It’s a really good deal for everyone involved,” she says.
Laurel shares much in common with Proximity Malt’s new site in southern Colorado. At both locations, the barley supply chain was underutilized, Germershausen says. Both areas let Proximity Malt work closely with growers and end-users on a regional basis.
In addition to what Germershausen calls a “sophisticated farmer economy,” Laurel benefits from a network of transportation options.
Then, of course, there is the feed mill, which has concrete bins for segmented storage. Proximity Malt paid $950,000 for the 18-acre site, which was once occupied by Laurel Grain Co. The grounds required extensive cleanup work, including the removal of some metal materials.
The Laurel plant went live in January 2018. There are currently 16 employees, but the company hopes to add at least four more.
Thus far, Germershausen says, county and state officials have been welcoming. “We’ve found Delaware a good place to do business.”