The need to look beyond Scotland to secure suitable supplies of malting barley for distilling is changing the UK market.

“The malting barley market is effectively split in two,” explains Stuart Shand of Gleadells. “There’s a tremendous need for grain below 1.65% nitrogen, particularly from certain varieties known to be non-GN types, which can be used for distilling.”

Traditionally, that requirement was met very well by specialist Scottish growers, he continues. “But demand has grown and now all the spare capacity in English maltings is geared towards that market as well. Distilling has been a real success story, which is why there have been premiums of £25/t over wheat futures on offer.”

But while the distilling and real ale markets are showing good growth, brewing has been in decline across Europe, he adds. “So, not surprisingly, growers are reacting accordingly. They know that there are hefty premiums on offer for low-nitrogen grain.”

By low nitrogen, he means a maximum of 1.65%. “If grain comes in above that level, then you are back to the normal brewing market, which needs barley with a maximum of 1.85% nitrogen.”

Null-Lox varieties, which are grown on contract for Carlsberg and Heineken, are suitable for the brewing market, he points out. “Although it’s a different market sector, they are also paying good premiums. So there are choices for growers, although they’ve being snapped up very quickly this year.”

Non-GN varieties include the version of a gene that makes them non-producers of the compound glycosidic nitrile, explains Mark Glew, Limagrain’s barley breeder.

Seed stocks

Limited stocks of spring malting barley are still available, says Nidera UK’s seeds manager Russell Frost.

“We still have Tipple and Propino spring barley available, but virtually everything else has gonenow.”

“It’s a tiny piece of DNA, but it makes those particular varieties suitable,” he notes. “There are only a few of them, but they’re the ones that are tested and supported by the distillers.”

Concerto and Belgravia are two examples of non-GN varieties with full approval for distilling, he continues. “The three varieties we introduced last year – Odyssey, Chronicle and Overture – are also non-GN types. We hope they will move up to full approval in due course.”

But these varieties are also dual purpose, or universal, stresses Mr Glew. “They meet the needs of both distilling and brewing. So if the brewing sector starts to pick up again, they are suitable for that market too.”

The export market is another consideration, he acknowledges. “We are seeing the need for varieties that are used by European brewers, which is why our newer introductions are also going through the French malting system.”

How to avoid skinning problems

Variety choice and careful harvesting can help avoid some of the skinning problems that were encountered in spring barley crops during 2012, advise trade sources.

Skinning was an unwelcome and widespread problem in last year’s spring barley crops, and was found across the country, from the south coast of England right up into Scotland, reports Stuart Shand of Gleadells.

The constant wetting and drying of crops in the field was believed to be responsible for loosening the skins, he comments. “Skinning is the term used for when part or all of the outside layer of the grain, the husk, is lost.”

Without this layer, problems can develop when the grain is put into water as part of the malting process, as it causes the grain to take up water at different rates. “The end product is affected and is not up to scratch.”

Normally, there’s a 2% tolerance of skinned grains. “But that’s been up as high as 16% this year, as the industry tries to help.”

The big, bold grains produced by newer varieties appear to have a greater tendency to skin in adverse weather conditions, points out David Waite of Frontier Agriculture.

“There’s a downside to these bigger grains. But there can be ways round the problem – harvesting technique certainly seemed to help this year, making adjustments to the tightness of the drum was one successful on-farm solution.”

Whether there was a higher level of skinning in Concerto and Propino, or if it was just a reflection of their joint 40% market share, remains to be seen, continues Mr Shand.

“Remember that these newer varieties came through the trialling system in dry years, whereas long-standing favourites, such as Optic, have shown to be robust across different seasons.”

How to avoid skinning problems

Variety choice and careful harvesting can help avoid some of the skinning problems that were encountered in spring barley crops during 2012, advise trade sources.

Skinning was an unwelcome and widespread problem in last year’s spring barley crops, and was found across the country, from the south coast of England right up into Scotland, reports Stuart Shand of Gleadells.

The constant wetting and drying of crops in the field was believed to be responsible for loosening the skins, he comments. “Skinning is the term used for when part or all of the outside layer of the grain, the husk, is lost.”

Without this layer, problems can develop when the grain is put into water as part of the malting process, as it causes the grain to take up water at different rates. “The end product is affected and is not up to scratch.”

Normally, there’s a 2% tolerance of skinned grains. “But that’s been up as high as 16% this year, as the industry tries to help.”

The big, bold grains produced by newer varieties appear to have a greater tendency to skin in adverse weather conditions, points out David Waite of Frontier Agriculture.

“There’s a downside to these bigger grains. But there can be ways round the problem – harvesting technique certainly seemed to help this year, making adjustments to the tightness of the drum was one successful on-farm solution.”

Whether there was a higher level of skinning in Concerto and Propino, or if it was just a reflection of their joint 40% market share, remains to be seen, continues Mr Shand.

“Remember that these newer varieties came through the trialling system in dry years, whereas long-standing favourites, such as Optic, have shown to be robust across different seasons.”

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Visit our Recommended Lists 2013/14 page for more details of the spring barley additions