7 June 1996

Competitors fix their sights on the maltsters…

Six malting barley growers won through to the on-farm inspection stage of the Barley-to-Beer competition organised by farmers weekly in conjunction with DuPont, The Beeston Malting Company and Pilgrim Ales. Andrew Blake reports on two from the south

FIVE crops of winter barley and one spring variety came under the judges eyes as they quizzed growers from Hants to Yorks on production philosophies and methods recently.

Despite the late season, which meant even the winter types were only just coming into ear, all the crops exhibited high standards of husbandry and were remarkably disease free. It bodes well for competitors striving to produce the top quality malting sample, which for the winner will be brewed into a personalised beer.

TO James Dockray, who runs 291ha (720 acres) of rented land at Fox Farm, Weyhill, Hants, the customer – in his case, the maltster – is king.

To be assured of success, growers must be aware of end users needs, he says. But despite the obvious link between barley and beer, communications between producers, maltsters and brewers are still generally weak, he believes.

Grain from the farm goes, via Hants merchant Robin Appel, to Wolverhampton and Dudley Breweries. "Five years ago we went on a visit and they said you are the first farmers we have seen here. I find that sad."

As a producer sufficiently confident of his teams ability to include the tag "Growers of Quality Malting Barley" on his Dockray Farming logo, he firmly believes in building customer confidence links.

He is unconcerned that publicity about good prospects for malting barley could encourage over-production and cut premiums. "We are aiming for the specialist UK premium market." His target of a maximum of 1.5% N has, on average, been met in two of the past three years. And with expected yields of 7t/ha (56cwt/acre) regularly exceeded on the Andover series soil, and premiums of up to £52/t for Pipkin, gross margins are better than for wheat on the same land, he notes.

After last seasons experience growing barley after set-aside this years entry – Pipkin – comes from a crop in the same slot. He believes ADASs soil nitrogen test and advice for just 90kg/ha (72 units/acre) of nitrogen played a big role in achieving a yield of 7.5t/ha (3t/acre) at just 1.35%N. "We are in our third year with the service and it has been spot on every time."

Defence strategies

Rhynchosporium is the main disease problem. Defence strategies are based on work at the Arable Research Centre trials at nearby Andover. "Local information is very important to us. We are doing more and more of our own agronomy, though we use Tim Maltby of Willmot Pertwee for anything technical we are not clear on." says Mr Dockray. "Flusilazole has proved the number one fungicide for rhynco in this area. Its not the cheapest, but it has to be in our programme. I would rather spend £10 and get £30 back than spend £6 and get £10."

Although yet to see any worthwhile response from autumn treatment, he is convinced of the merit of a spring spray before GS31 (first node detectable) on the malting crop. Stronger straw and better rhynco resistance should be breeders main priorities, he says.

Sticking to IOB approved chemicals gives BS5750 accredited maltsters and brewers a quality assurance they may not receive with imported grain, he adds.

All-bin storage and the ability to screen hard and undertake specialist drying for maltsters see the farm well placed to continue its role as a quality producer.

James Dockray (second left) outlines his malting strategy to the judges (from left): Andrew Blake of farmers weekly, Richard Fenwick, NIAB cereal variety specialist, and Andy Selley, DuPont technical services manager. Pipkin after set-aiside provides his competition edge.