31 March 2000

Doubt cast over malting barley N specifications

By Andrew Swallow

MALTING barley growers and traders may need to re-think traditional nitrogen specifications, according to a leading researcher. However, maltsters were quick to dismiss his claims at an HGCA malting seminar last week.

Speaking at the Peterborough meeting, Geoff Palmer of Herriot Watt University said much of the brewing and malting trades standards are based on tradition rather than exact science. That could be placing unnecessary and inappropriate specifications on contracts.

Research at the university shows that grain nitrogen content has no influence on the level of two of the major barley enzymes needed for distilling and brewing, for example. Yet buyers demand high nitrogen barley in the belief it will give them high enzymes. "This work has dispelled that myth," he said.

But maltster Bob King of Crisp Malting Group questioned the relevance of the as yet unpublished work to the malting markets. "We are producing malt to buyers specifications. That is a real market and you cant argue with that."

He is adamant growers must aim to increase grain nitrogen content in samples. Too many are growing new high yielding varieties, with strobilurin chemistry, and not allowing for the nitrogen dilution effect. Barley with nitrogen below 1.4% will struggle to find a malting market, he warned.

"The HGCA has been funding the R&D work, so make use of it. What we want as maltsters is more suitable barley and you have got to go for yield." &#42