24 July 1998

FUNGICIDE-FREE BARLEY NEAR

BARLEY varieties giving extra benefits to brewers and which can be grown without fungicides are the crops future, and material capable of doing just that is already in breeding programmes.

That is the view of top UK barley breeder Mike Collins, winner of an RASEs medal for technical achievement at this years Royal Show.

Mr Collins has been breeding barley varieties for 34 years, developing Nickersons barley programme in the 1960s with varieties like Georgie, Ark Royal and Golf, before establishing New Farm Crops with spring varieties Fleet, Cooper and Optic.

"The objectives have changed a lot," notes Mr Collins. "When I started in 1964 spring barley growers were doing very well if they managed 30cwt/acre. Now growers are getting 3t/acre. Yield really has doubled."

Together with fungicide developments, breeding has played a key role. But while breeding will continue to deliver yield increases – Optic outyielding Chariot by 7%, for example – brewer demands mean fungicides will play a progressively smaller role, he predicts.

"We need a brewing variety which can be grown without fungicides. All current varieties benefit from fungicides, but material is coming forward which has very good resistance to all barley diseases. In five years we could have varieties which do not respond to fungicides and do not sacrifice yield."

BYDV resistant varieties already help growers avoid insecticide use, Mr Collins notes.

The other big change will be added-value traits to help brewers and maltsters produce a more natural end product. "Removing the need for brewers to clarify their beer using chemicals is a key target we need to attack."

Pro-anthocyanins contained in barley grains crystallise in beer to create a haze. Brewers have to use a chemical process to produce clear beer. "We are well on the way to creating barleys without that problem, which could help brewers produce completely natural beer," he says.

The challenge now is to combine those traits in a high yielding variety adapted to UK conditions. Mr Collins is confident that can be achieved.

Continuing yield increases, less need for fungicides and traits to help brewers produce greener beer all make for a promising future for the barley crop, Mr Collins concludes. &#42

NIAB list confusing

Spring and winter barley varieties are not equally able to meet brewing needs, maintains Mr Collins. "There is a lot of misunderstanding about the ability of winter types to meet brewing needs, especially with the arrival of so-called dual-purpose varieties. A winter variety rating of nine for malting quality is equivalent to a spring variety rating of just seven and that has a direct bearing on the litres of beer that can be produced from a tonne of malt from that variety," says Mr Collins. "I think the NIAB list is very misleading, it should be changed."