2 January 1998

Less Scots S barley

THERE will be a reduced area of spring barley in Scotland in the coming season, but growers will stick to malting varieties and manage the crop for that market. That is the view of most pundits.

"Many of those who were disappointed with yield, quality and malting premiums this year will already have gone for extra winter wheat," says Alan Whiteford, chairman of the Inverness-based co-operative Highland Grain, which specialises in malting barley. The only choice that remains is to substitute spring oilseed rape for barley, but it is unlikely that move will be significant.

He urges those sticking with barley to aim for the malting market. "It is a real Scottish market for a Scottish crop. There will be premiums and, the way prices are heading for grain, such premiums become ever more important."

Alan Macdonald, cereals purchasing manager with United Distillers, is confident there will be no marked swing away from malting barley. "There will be premiums of 20-35% for quality barley. We and other maltsters want the product on a long term basis. It is in our interest to pay a realistic premium for the grain we need.

"We will be opening contracts early in the new year and, having already filled all our winter barley contracts, we are confident there will be enough incentive to maintain the Scottish spring crop."

Spring decline

Chris Staples, crop marketing manager with Dalgety, forecasts a slight decline in the spring barley area as some farmers turn their backs on the crop after low prices and disappointing quality in the past year. That could be enough to lead to higher premiums.

However, the true value of premiums is questioned by consultant Hugh Phillips of Scottish Agronomy. "Only half the total Scottish barley crop goes for malting, yet most of it is grown as malting barley. In my book that means the premium received by farmers is only about half of that quoted by maltsters who always use the figure for the very top quality grain."

Spring barley remains vulnerable to mood changes. The area in Scotland peaked at 356,000ha (XXXXXXX acres) in 1986, fell to a low of

217,000ha (XXXXXXX acres) in 1994, and has recovered only to 260,000ha (XXXXXXX acres) in the past two years.

The consensus is that the crop will move to specialist producers with closer and closer ties to maltsters and distillers, that worthwhile premiums will be on offer, and that in uncertain times ahead there has to be a future for a crop grown for a real market.