2 August 2002

Barley boycott on the cards as frustration rises

By Andrew Swallow

MOVES out of barley production are gaining momentum among growers with one leading malting grower calling for like-minded farmers to unite and boycott the crop.

"We cant afford to stay on autopilot like lemmings growing it," says Teddy Maufe, of Branthill Farm, near Wells in north Norfolk.

Growers must avoid the temptation to drill in hope of higher premiums next year, as they have done in recent seasons, he says.

"Once we sow the seed the wheel will simply do another circuit and we will be in the same desperate position next year. We have to break this pattern."

What is needed is a contract that guarantees growers a reasonable price provided they produce malting quality barley. The link to feed base prices, the malting failure value, should be severed, he says.

"This is what has gone so wrong, with feed at £50/t." Premiums for mainline malting barleys are also too small to reflect the risk involved with growing for that market, he adds.

"With only an £8-10/t premium on Fanfare what on earth are we trying to do? We need much bigger premiums when we do make the spec to make up for the years when we dont."

Fellow Norfolk farmer James Keith, of Swanton Morley Farms, says growers are likely to desert the crop in droves unless a better deal is offered and fast.

"The maltsters are about to shoot themselves in the foot. A lot of growers are going to quit the crop because you cannot make a sensible return."

Much of the paltry premium offered is eroded by additional haulage, he adds.

"On our farm we plan to increase feed barley, oilseed rape and set-aside, and drop the malting barley."

However, both growers agree that all is not lost for this season if brewers, maltsters and merchants can put their heads together and come up with a decent deal.

"It would add less than 1p/pint to pay us £20/t more," says Mr Keith. "That is all we are asking. I dont believe any of us would notice a penny on a pint when we are in the pub." &#42

&#8226 Sever feed price link.

&#8226 Profit share down the chain.

&#8226 Grower group forming.

&#8226 Boycott unless better deal.

Fanfare failure

Teddy Maufes Fanfare barley results illustrate why much larger premiums are needed. Nitrogen was on the button at 1.65%, yield was reasonable at 6.2t/ha (2.5t/acre), but screenings, at 18%, like many samples this year, are much too high to malt without costly cleaning. "At £52/t for feed, the red ink on the crop becomes crimson," says Mr Maufe. Maris Otter, on the other hand, has faired much better. Grown on a special £40/t over feed contract through Banhams at Fakenham, to go to local brewer Woodfordes via Crisps Malt, it made the grade, but only with 5t/ha (2t/acre), he adds.