By FWi staff

CHINESE malting barley buyers have finally put British farmers in the know by announcing their variety preferences on imports from the UK.

Leading Chinese importers said, through interpreters, that certain British barley varieties could make the specification for the Chinese markets.

This announcement was made at a conference organised by British Cereal Exports (BCE) yesterday (Wednesday).

The samples they are seeking are dominated by the spring varieties, with Optic and Chariot at the forefront. Regina and Alexis are also good, they noted.

Spring varieties are what is wanted, said trader Chris Toft of Cargills. “Maybe Optic might be the answer,” he said.

This was echoed by purchasing manager Bob King of Crisp Maltings who said that, if the industry could have one variety, it would save a lot of money.

He expects the use of Optic to rise to 70% in the next year, “Which in effect is moving towards the single variety that we need,” he said. “Spring barley is what were after.”

Many British farmers have expressed a willingness to grow for export in recent years, but until now have been in the dark over the best varieties to grow.

The BCE claims that the quality of UK barley is just as good as its competitors, if not better.

The UK malting barley industry has a long way to go to reach its goals, said BCE chairman Barclay Forrest. “The sections within the industry know very little about each other at present,” he said.

Malsters have a number of expectations from the malt, and the key word within the industry is “quality”, stressed Professor Geoff Palmer of the International Centre of Brewing and Distilling, Edinburgh.

British barley will have to meet the expectations of its customers, he said.

He believes the key to malt quality is homogeneity in a variety, and warned that there would be no point in trying to sell our way out of an export problem, but fix it first.

We need to benchmark varieties, said the professor. “Know their strengths and weaknesses so we get the right variety for the right market.”

But do we put a crop in the ground and hope to achieve what the market wants, or do we wait for a market to develop and then grow for what they want, asked malting barley grower, Simon Browne.

He believes that malting barley is the one crop in the UK which can compete like-for-like with any country in the world. “All we need to do now is match the price.”

In the past, British growers have waited for a market to materialise, noted Mr Browne. “But farmers cant afford to do this now,” he warned.

Producers need to know the buyers specifications, he said. At the same time, the UK has the added advantage of the Assured Combinable Crops Scheme and traceability, he said.

“Go back to your own farms and check your gross margins,” urged Mr Browne. “See what you can achieve.”