21 January 2000

Growers call for malting barley confederation

By Andrew Swallow

CALLS for a confederation of malting barley growers received widespread support at a packed farmer meeting in East Anglia last week.

Main aim of such an organisation would be better communication to help growers meet maltsters and brewers requirements more closely, explained former FW Farmer Focus writer and conference instigator, Teddy Maufe of Branthill, Wells-next-the-Sea, Norfolk.

Dual-purpose varieties, the shift to lager-type beers and the global economic downturn were all blamed for the price collapse. But any thought of forcing better premiums from the market was firmly scotched.

Chair of the HGCAs market information committee, Marie Skinner, backed the groups goals, but warned growers not to try to force the market. "That idea is dead before it starts. But bringing together growers and the trade to improve the understanding of the market makes some sense."

At the meeting, organised by Newmarket NFU at Barnham Broom, near Norwich, much of the blame for the collapse in malting margins was laid at the door of now widely grown varieties Regina and Fanfare.

"Dual purpose varieties are a major factor," said Richard Wake, Dalgetys malting barley manager for the region. "They increased yields by 0.5-1t/acre and doubled the area of the winter malting barley crop."

Changing nitrogen requirements, stronger sterling, later buying by maltsters and the collapse in the Asian and S American economies were also to blame.

The continuing reluctance of international buyers to use winter barley malt compounds the problem, added Crisp Malting Groups Bob King. "You can grow all the winter barley you like, but we cant sell any more than is used in our domestic industry," he warned.

Cask-conditioned ales decline to less than 10% of the UK beer market has also slashed the demand for traditional low nitrogen winter barley samples. "Thats about 80,000t of barley. When you include 25,000t of Maris Otter it doesnt leave much of a market for the Pipkin and Halcyon grown this year," he said.

Such changes mean trouble for traditional malting barley growers, said Ms Skinner. "I thing there are major questions for growers on light land. The rules for growing malting barley have changed and the new rules dont suit their soils."

But alternatives are few, and maltsters should not rely on Regina from feed barley growers, Mr Maufe maintained. "It is not going to be a low nitrogen year every year. If the industry wants a stable supply of quality malting barley it must send out some more positive signals."

&#8226 Growers interested in a confederation of malting barley growers should contact Pamela Forbes at the NFUs Newmarket office. Tel: 01638-672100. Fax: 01638-672101

MALTING CRISIS

* Price almost halved, premium down from £45/t to £10-15/t.

* Dual purpose winter varieties.

* Economic collapse in Asia & S America.

* New maltster buying habits.

* Lager leap, cask ale collapse.

ENDS.480.WORDS

Back a confederation of malting barley growers to improve communication within the industry and, hopefully, enhance returns, urged Norfolk grower Teddy Maufe (right). But prices must remain competitive, stressed brewers representative Peter Brookes.

S barley promise

Prospects for spring barley premiums this autumn are looking up, says Dalgetys Richard Wake. Sowings are expected to be 14% down, which could lead to £20-25/t premiums, he predicted. "Its the one area where we could see an improvement."

MALTING CRISIS

&#8226 Price almost halved, premium down from £45/t to £10-15/t.

&#8226 Dual purpose winter varieties.

&#8226 Economic collapse in Asia & S America.

&#8226 New maltster buying habits.

&#8226 Lager leap, cask ale collapse.