13 March 1998

Growers future looks brighter in long term

Despite this seasons hiccups the future for malting barley

growers remains bright, according to a judge in this years

Barley-to-Beer competition. Andrew Blake reports

WITHOUT doubt 1997 left many malting barley growers and potential newcomers disillusioned, says Alan Almond, director of the HGCAs export promotion activities.

But long term prospects look encouraging and producers should stick to the crop, he maintains. "Dont give up the ghost just because of one bad year."

The key to progress is to understand market needs and work closely with barley buyers and maltsters, Dr Almond advises. "That should allow growers to use new high yielding varieties to tap into growing overseas markets." A wide range of information from various sources (see box) is available to help.

Variable quality, skinning and pre-germination caused big problems after last years tricky harvest, he acknowledges. "With maltsters overbought and the international market depressed, margins on malting barley dont look very healthy. But it wont always be like that.

Three main outlets merit growers attention.

First there are home users. UK maltsters need about 2m tonnes a year.

"If you have a good rapport with your local buyer and maltster there are still reasonable premiums," suggests Dr Almond.

Staying with the home market, distillers still prefer to use UK barleys they know like Derkado and Delibes, he adds.

Near European countries, particularly Germany, Belgium and Holland offer other opportunities, though mainly for spring types. "There is still a marked reluctance among continental maltsters to move away from tried and tested varieties."

Recently up to 400,000t a year of UK barley has been taken up by customers such as Becks, Carlsberg, Heineken and Stella Artois.

For the past five years roughly 500,000t a year more barley equivalent has been exported all over the world as malt. BCE also has been examining alternatives to previous exports which have mostly been of feed to Saudi Arabia and North Africa.

"We are trying to give growers more options, especially for the middle quality barleys, though they cannot expect £40/t premiums."

Booming production of beer in East Asia and to a lesser extent in South America underpins his optimism. One BCE estimate is that by 2003 Far Eastern drinkers will consume nearly twice as much as they do now.

The main barrier to sales is local misunderstanding of what can be achieved with UK barleys. "China, where the Australians have been particularly active, is a prime example," he says. "The Chinese believe that to brew light lager, which is what they mostly drink, you must have a light-skinned barley like the Australian variety Schooner."

But recent BCE-funded work at Heriot-Watt University shows that darker-skinned British types can do the same job, says Dr Almond. "Prof Geoff Palmer showed that UK varieties like Regina and Gleam could readily meet Chinese malt specifications."

Subsequently BCE and the HGCAs R&D section has put together a part DTI-funded 10-week course for four Chinese maltsters at the university. "We hope it will overcome some of their misconceptions."

Whats the prospect for malting barley? Better than you might think, says HGCA exports manager and Barley-to-Beer judge Alan Almond (left).

Malting contacts


British Society of Plant Breeders 01353-664211

Department of Agriculture for Northern Ireland   Home-Grown Cereals Authority 01232-548000

Food & drink promotion & BCE 0171-520 3971

Research & development 0171-520 3945

Market information 0171-520 3918

Institute of Brewing 0171-499 8144

Malters Association of Great Britain 01636-700781

National Institute of Agricultural Botany 01223-276381

Scottish Agricultural College 0131-535 3070