Project Calypso opens new windows in Southwest Virginia grain market


(WJHL) — One growing industry within the hills and farms of Southwest Virginia includes that of the specialty grain market, which allows farmers to partake in the craft beverage industry and opens new windows of opportunity for business and profit within the region.

Project Calypso, an effort from InvestSWVA, aims to create new opportunities for farmers to harvest high quality barley that later plays a key role in the development of craft beverages.

InvestSWVA hosted a Zoom interview with Southwest Virginia officials along with agricultural experts and a handful of the best brewers and maltsters in the southeast on Wednesday night.

Will Clear of the Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy’s economic development team said this initiative stems from land that was once used throughout an era that provided most electricity from mining.

Since the plummet of the coal mining industry in Southwest Virginia, many struggled from the loss of jobs, which took a hit on the area’s economy.

“The whole idea is to help out affected coal communities,” Clear said.

Project Calypso can change all that.

Will Payne of InvestSWVA sees Southwest Virginia as a breeding ground for barley, which would throw area farmers into the playing field of the growing craft beverage industry.

“Project Calypso highlights Southwest Virginia’s potential to be a significant player in the craft beverage industry,” Payne said. “Not just locally, but all around Virginia.”

And this possibility might soon become a reality.

An agricultural expert with Virginia Tech, Dr. Wade Thomasson, revealed that after many areas across the country gave up on the idea of barley breeding, VT saw another opportunity brewing.

“A lot universities, especially in the eastern U.S. gave up on barley breeding in the 1990s when acreage declined,” Thomasson said. “Virginia Tech maintained its barley breeding program because it saw a lot of potential benefits for barley and how it fits in the crop rotation — how it fits other crops in rotation and provides something green and growing on the land in wintertime.”

He believed high elevation and the climate of Southwest Virginia might just help further success of the grain.

When Thomasson learned about InvestSWVA’s Project Calypso, he was all in.

“When this opportunity in the craft beverage industry arose, we were ready to move on it, and we had material in the program,” he said. “When people ask, ‘Can we use Virginia-grown grain?’ And we said we don’t know, but we have a lot of things you can try.

“We had that opportunity, and we were able to find some things in our program that were suitable initially and begin to breed for the craft beverage industry.

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