East Anglian farmers are being urged to grow more malting barley by a grain merchant who claims the region is running short of the crop.

Gleadell’s malting barley director Stuart Shand said the outlook for producers in the region was good.

“We are starting to come out of the recession that UK malt has been in and it is now very unlikely there will be any more maltings closing in East Anglia.”

He said East Anglia was about 400,000t short of malting barley, which it had to haul in from other parts of the country.

“It’s a good opportunity for local farmers.

East Anglia boasts some of the most suitable land available in the UK.

There are plenty of consumer homes and a very good range of acceptability for nitrogen content, from 1.4% to 2.5%.”

Spring malting varieties enjoyed one of the best gross margins of any crop, he claimed.

“We can’t do anything about the low base price, but premiums for malting varieties have been constant for a decade at 15-20/t.

We are back to the traditional growers now, who grow malting barley year on year, and that leads to fewer rejections and better values.”

But Josh Dadd, a market analyst at the Home-Grown Cereals Authority, said production was on the wane because of low values.

“We are getting to the stage where maltsters have to look around and decide whether they need to pay more.”

And despite contracts for low nitrogen crops reaching 85/t, Norfolk farmer Teddy Maufe was cynical about calls to ramp up production.

“The malting barley market has been oversupplied for years, thanks to the introduction of dual-use varieties in the 1990s.

Too many farmers tried to grow winter malting barley, and prices collapsed.

There is still oversupply.”

Growers should only sow on contracts, he said, and to be viable, spring barley needed to fetch 90/t or more, with at least 80/t for winter barley.

“Like maltsters, we are incurring huge price increases in our energy costs.”

Alan Ridealgh, deputy managing director of maltster Muntons, said these prices were unrealistic.

“You only have to look at maltsters’ accounts to see they are not making a great deal of money.

Malt is now a global business, and the launch of Assured UK Malt will only maintain exports.”

Crisp Malting Group has announced 14 redundancies, but says it is not planning any more closures and insists malt production at its four plants will not be affected.

sam.fortescue@rbi.co.uk