OPTIC IS king, but Cocktail’s graduation to full IoB approval for the entire UK makes it a firm attention seeker.

“For most, the choice is either Optic or Cocktail,” confirms independent variety consultant Richard Fenwick.

Optic has been the dominant variety for a while, and with good reason. “It has brewing and distilling recommendations, making it suitable for north and south, and extremely good end use acceptance.”

Indeed, that acceptance, and the maltsters notoriously conservative outlook as regards new varieties helped it to the lion”s share of the market for the last four or five years, says Grainfarmers UAP’s Tim Hirst. “Growers are familiar with it, warts and all.”

But it is time for growers to move on, suggests Mr Fenwick. “Cocktail has plenty of grower appeal. It has a 7% yield advantage over Optic, together with good disease resistance and IoB approval.”

Cocktail performs slightly better in the south, where a 9% yield advantage has been recorded. “Up in the north, this benefit is lower at 5%.”

At 70cm, it is fairly short strawed, he says. “That might be a problem for a few growers. It also falls down on yellow rust resistance, but that”s not a major disease in spring barley.”

Significantly better ear retention and brackling resistance – Optic’s Achilles’ heel – are key advantages, he adds.

Mr Hirst agrees and suggests growers should look to split their acreage between the two varieties. “It won’t need treating any differently from Optic to make 1.6-1.65% nitrogen.”

But remember it doesn”t have any export potential, he adds. “That means it is less suitable for growers in the south looking to export out of Southampton.”

Cellar is a better alternative to Optic in the south, he says. Growers haven’t really taken to Cellar, says Mr Fenwick. “It’s going to be in demand from the maltsters.”

In Scotland, Optic will remain dominant for this season, believes SAC’s Steve Hoad. “Cocktail does have a tendency for low grain nitrogens like Optic, suitable for malt distilling, but on the downside it suffers from high screenings.”

That can be countered to some extent by avoiding excessively high seed rates and drilling early, he says, but it does mean growers shouldn’t jump to Cocktail in a big way. “Check with your end market buyer first.”

Like Cocktail, Troon got full IoB approval earlier this year, adds Dr Hoad. “But specifically for malt distilling.”

Yield for Troon is 3% above Optic, and it has much lower screenings, he says. “That’s a real advantage, but last year it tended to produce higher grain nitrogens than expected, which will slow down its market development.”

Breeder’s Nickersons is releasing further agronomic advice for the variety to help growers adjust their management, he says.