2 August 2002

Dark clouds hang over malting barley outlook

By Andrew Blake

WINTER malting barley nitrogens and screenings are continuing to come in generally high and now steamy conditions and heavy rain is raising sprouting concerns in uncut crops.

However, growers hoping that a shortage of malting samples will raise prices are likely to be disappointed, say traders.

About 60% of the two-row winter barley has been harvested in Allied Grain Souths catchment area. Quality remains very variable, says Chris Toft.

"There are hot spots of good quality, but there is no regional trend and no pattern to it which is puzzling. Generally, it is disappointing with no spectacular yields. Few crops are over 3t/acre."

Average nitrogen content of the firms samples last week was 1.83%, with a range of 1.4% to over 2%. Maltsters usually require only 1.5-1.75, he notes. Screenings through a 2.25mm sieve run from 4% to 15%.

But despite the relatively poor outcome premiums are unlikely to rise as drillings were more than enough to satisfy domestic maltsters needs, he believes.

Alan Ridalgh, of The Maltsters Association, echoes that. While initial nitrogens were quite high they have become more acceptable recently. "We should have no problem in finding enough."

Grainfarmers Stephen Howlett says nitrogens in Norfolk are averaging 1.75%, close to the upper limit. Screenings are also a problem, with Fanfare especially poor, and Pearl having more than he would like.

Dalgetys Trevor Harriman eachoes that, but Banks Cargills Richard Whitlock urges growers to keep the variability in perspective.

After last years good samples the 2002 results are much more as normal, he stresses. "You dont get malting barley by guarantee." Dressing thin samples to make them more acceptable is only likely to be cost-effective with high premium types. &#42

&#8226 Harvest report continues on page 50.

Cambs grower Barry Hudson is content with the 7.4t/ha (3t/acre) of Antonia feed barley he grew at Moores Farm, Crowland. Elsewhere top malting quality is often elusive with high nitrogens and screenings.

&#8226 High nitrogens trend.

&#8226 Heavy screenings.

&#8226 Spring drought blamed.

&#8226 Little impact on prices?

What went wrong?

Pinning down what went wrong is proving hard, but Hampshire Arable Systems Steve Cook believes the spring drought is largely to blame for the generally lower yields and poor quality in the south. Later sowings which took up nitrogen at a more suitable growth stage could prove more rewarding, he believes. "Yields are all over the place. I have even heard of one farm with a yield of 3.5t/acre and nitrogen of 2.2%, which is very strange." First NIAB trials results mirror that picture, with high yields accompanied by high nitrogen, says cereals specialist Richard Fenwick.

Spotlight on FWs southern barometer

Very good yields, tempered by delays caused by slow crop ripening and an indifferent result from one particular variety, have characterised harvest so far on farmers weeklys southern barometer farm at Farnham, Surrey.

On Tuesday, Simon Porter (right) and nephew Giles were three-quarters of the way through the 113ha (280 acres) of oilseed rape being tackled by Penn Croft Farms two combines, and hoping to finish before the forecast storms.

"Last week was frustrating because it never seemed quite fit," says Mr Porter. Touchdown Quattro (glyphosate) desiccant at 3 litres/ha applied on July 13 took a long time to work in the dull weather.

"We kept thinking it was ready, but had a lot of cloudy weather and it just didnt finish very fast. We started cutting at 11% moisture, but given the forecast I am glad we did."

First to come, on July 22, was 25ha (63 acres) of hybrid Royal on fairly light land. Dried and cleaned it yielded 4.3t/ha (1.75t/acre). "Thats 0.25t/acre up on last year."

But the star crop at the end of last week was 30ha (73 acres) of conventional variety Recital from better land. "It did 1.98t/acre dried and cleaned which is very pleasing."

However, 8.5ha (21 acres) of conventional type Courage in an adjacent field was disappointing after poor pod set. "We got 1.6t/acre, which isnt as bad as Id feared, but it is clearly sub-standard. Its been a lazy crop all through – slow to get up and go and not filling the pods properly. We wont be growing it again."

Breeder Advanta recently acknowledged that the variety had suffered an "unusual physiological effect" at Penn Croft Farms, which to some degree also hit Recital. "I havent yet decided on my response and whether we shall be taking it any further," says Mr Porter

With only 50t scheduled to be delivered during harvest, the bulk will be stored awaiting United Oilseeds call. The pool-based premium contract permits him to outload at any time should the need become clear. "I am confident it will pay to store," he says.