Warter Priory Farms in Yorkshire has doubled the area of Flagon being grown this year, after a successful debut with it in 2005.
Last year, the two farm managers on the 4,500ha estate, Ian Hall and David Kendra, grew 130ha of Flagon on contract to Muntons Malt.
Yields were good, averaging 7.5t/ha, and grain nitrogens were a bit lower than they had previously achieved with Pearl.
“That was a good thing as far as our customer, Muntons, was concerned, as they are looking for grain nitrogen levels below 1.7,” recalls Mr Kendra.
“It all made the malting specification.”
Winter barley has always had a place on the estate, which also grows 1,000ha of winter wheat, 500ha of spring barley, 500ha of oilseed rape and 500ha of vining peas.
“We don’t grow any second wheats,” says estate manager Tony Biggin.
“Winter barley fills that slot in the rotation and is our second biggest earner, after wheat.”
The straw from the barley is valued because of the estate’s 600-head suckler herd.
“We also have a very local market for any surplus.”
This year, the farm has 280ha of Flagon, some of which is being grown for seed.
It is largely replacing Pearl, which has been grown successfully for malting for a few years.
“We’ve seen a yield improvement by switching to Flagon,” notes Mr Hall.
“We used to get an average of 6.75t/ha with Pearl.”
The crop’s agronomy has been done in a similar way to Pearl, he comments.
“We applied the same amount of nitrogen, 130kg/ha, in two splits and used a fungicide, Jaunt (fluoxastrobin + prothioconazole), at both T1 and T2.”
The only difference with Flagon was to increase the rate of growth regulator at GS30, in recognition of its weaker straw.
“And we will up the PGR use again this year, just to make sure it remains standing.”
An additional 0.1 litres/ha of PGR makes almost no difference to the growing costs, he reckons.
“It yields more and it’s also a cleaner variety than Pearl.
It has eights for rhynchosporium, net blotch and yellow rust we always saw more disease in Pearl.”
Mr Hall also noticed Flagon produced more straw than Pearl.
“It does slow the combine down at harvest.”
The farm drills in mid-September following spring barley.
Mosaic virus is not a problem, being on chalk wold, and the early harvest provides a good entry into oilseed rape.
Spring barley is also grown on contract to Muntons for malting, with Tipple and Cocktail now replacing Optic as the main varieties.
A trial site on the farm, run by Yorkshire Arable Marketing, gives the estate and farm managers a good advance indication of how new varieties will perform once they are available, and what agronomy they should apply.
“We try to add value to the crops grown here,” syas Mr Biggin.
“So we have contracts with maltsters and millers, as well as some seed production.
Certainly Flagon seems to meet the needs of both maltster and brewer, and that has now been confirmed by IBD approval.”
Muntons Malt is looking for about 70% of the barley it buys for its Yorkshire Malting to come in with a grain nitrogen level below 1.7, says regional grain buyer Mark Ineson.
“For that reason, Flagon appears to suit our requirements,” he points out.
“It typically produces grain nitrogen’s 0.05-0.1% lower than Pearl.”
Mr Ineson worked with Warter Priory Farms last year to get Flagon involved in some brewing trials, which went very well.
“With a new variety, we start off with a 200t batch, which is processed and trialled with just one brewer,” he says.
“The following year, we then involve two or three brewers, and process batches of up to 1000t.
Providing it all goes according to plan, we are able to demonstrate our confidence in the variety by offering contracts on a much bigger scale.”
That’s where Muntons has got to with Flagon, he says.
“This year, we’re buying quite a few thousand tonnes of it.
The brewers are happy with the end result, so there are contracts available from both our Bridlington and our Stowmarket maltings.”
Mr Ineson stresses there were no contract failures with the 5,000t of Flagon the company purchased last year.
“That’s a first for us with malting barley, and shows that the variety offers reliability and consistency.”
But it’s not just winter barley that the company is seeking from professional growers, he says.
It also offers contracts for spring barley, including Optic, Cocktail and Tipple.
Cask conditioned beers produced by regional brewer Frederic Robinson from Flagon earlier this year proved to be as good as their previous standard, says head brewer Chris Hellin.
“The results with our first batch were very encouraging,” he says.
“The general view was Flagon had done as well as Pearl.
It gave the same brewing performance.”
He is now awaiting the results of a second set of trials, which are evaluating whether Flagon does as well in bottle and keg beers.
“Unlike cask conditioned beer, these beers are cold conditioned and filtered,” explains Mr Hellin.
“So we’re interested in the sparkle of the brew, and whether there are any filtration or similar problems.”
He stresses to date he has been happy with the way that Flagon has milled and handled.
“There’s been nothing that has given us cause for concern.
We simply need to be sure that the variety is suitable for the whole range of beers that we produce.”
Brewing trials are always conducted by the Stockport brewery when a new variety is put forward, he says.
“We are involved with at least two varieties at any one time, so it’s in our interest to get some experience with new introductions.”
While cask conditioned beers only have a six weeks shelf life, the processed brewery conditioned beers are different.
Because keg beer has a shelf life of four months and bottle beer has twelve months, factors such as stability are important, he says.
“We also look at things such as the spectrum of sugars available from the variety and the length of time it takes the yeast to ferment the sugar,” continues Mr Hellin.
“As far as we can tell at this stage, there’s very little difference between Flagon and Pearl in this respect.”
Frederic Robinson brews beer from Optic, Cocktail, Pearl and Flagon, with full traceability both from and to the farm being important.
“We sell the spent grains from the brewing process back to the farm for animal feed, so this quality assurance works both ways.”
Tracking of casks from production through to trade allows the brewery to monitor return levels.
“If our customers are happy with the product, then we know that we’re getting it right.
And the cask conditioned beers we made from Flagon were well received.”