Two factors will drive winter barley variety choice this year, Peter James of Frontier says.

“The malting premium means that varieties such as Pearl and Flagon will be seriously considered by those growers who can meet the specification,” he says.

Of these two, Pearl has dominated as Flagon is seen as more of a specialist variety. “Flagon does have weaker straw, so it’s better on the lighter soils.”

Cassata is now fully approved, giving growers another option, especially where they have barley yellow mosaic virus on their land, he adds. “There may be a storage issue if you’re growing more than one malting type, as the brewers haven’t got used to this variety yet. But it seems to meet their needs.”

Otherwise, the better feed varieties, either with or without mosaic virus resistance, will be in demand. “That means Carat if you have infested land, or Accrue or Saffron if you are after the highest yields. They’re the leaders for yield and grain quality.”

His colleague, David Waite, says that the buoyant feed market in the midlands and the north gives the six-row varieties a place.

“In this situation, growers are looking for yield. And they get that with the newer six-rows, some of which have reasonable grain quality, too.”

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He names Pelican as the highest yielding choice and Sequel as the most popular, due to its combination of yield and grain quality.

Steve Hoad of SAC points out that the majority of the winter barley grown in Scotland is for feed.

“Of the two-rows, Saffron combines a good yield with a good specific grain weight, but it is quite weak on mildew and rhynchosporium.”

Retriever, with its outstanding yields of 6% above Saffron, is gaining in popularity, he adds. “It can give as much yield as a six-row. But it isn’t so good agronomically and growers have to be prepared for that.”

Both straw strength and disease resistance need help. “It will reward you with very high yields if you get the management of it right.”

Pearl is still of interest to Scottish growers, regardless of the intended market, he says. “It is a bit behind on yield now but it has been a good choice for the heavier soils. Some goes for brewing.”

Accrue is at the same stage as Retriever, he notes. “It is similar to Saffron, but offers better agronomics and a good specific weight. So in time it may well overtake Saffron in popularity.”

Three of the six-rows have caught Dr Hoad’s eye Amarena, Pelican and Sequel. “Amarena has done well in Scotland and produced good yields. It also has good disease resistance and straw stiffness. The downside is quite a low specific weight.”

Pelican offers very good yields, he continues. “Again, its specific weight is poor, so it’s a question of getting the right balance.”

Sequel is a popular benchmark variety, he adds. “Others yield more now, but this is one six-row with a good specific weight.”

His final word is on the hybrid barleys. “They are improving all the time and the latest candidate variety, Volume, is of interest. Yields are outstanding and the grain quality is good. The only possible downside is that it appears to have weakish straw.”