25 August 1995

Malt barley seed is costly choice

By Philip Clarke

CEREAL growers coming to the seed market for the first time are in for a shock if malting barley is their intended purchase.

A combination of tight supply and strong demand has created a shortage of most varieties, pushing prices up. Where Halcyon and Pipkin are available they have been costing from £340 to £360/t recleaned untreated – £100/t more than last year.

Even Puffin is tight, with few lots available for less than £300/t.

With malting premiums of £50 or more this harvest, and with quality generally excellent, many growers have been tempted back to the crop.

But meeting this demand was always going to be difficult with the total UK area of certified seed for these three varieties back by 31% to 4764ha (11,772 acres), according to National Institute of Agricultural Botany statistics (Business, Apr 7).

Other new varieties such as Gleam, Regina and Fanfare have been keenly sought, but volumes of those are even more restricted.

Of the feed varieties, Intro is selling well and has overtaken Pastoral and Fighter in the north of England, according to George Doody of supplier AF. These varieties are typically making £240 to £250/t on farm.

But a number of merchants report problems shifting Gaelic. Despite performing well again in trials some growers have been put off by problems with early ear emergence and frost damage.

Winter wheat seed sales have been slower off the mark, with farmers assessing the harvest before placing their orders. Riband and Brigadier are again the front runners, the former trading at £220/t, with another £15 for the latter to reflect the higher royalty. Consort is selling well at £265 to £275/t as a "soft" alternative to Riband.

"For milling wheat it is Hereward, Hereward, Hereward," says Tim Hirst of merchant BDR.

Generally, the trade estimates that only about 30% of orders have now been placed.

Paul Taylor of wholesaler Seed Innovations warns farmers not to leave it all to the last minute. "With the range of varieties and different treatments available, merchants are not taking a gamble and building up stocks. They are waiting for firm orders," he said.

He also expressed concern that if the drought lasts much longer, drilling could be delayed. "We are already hearing of cancelled rapeseed orders. Farmers may soon have to decide whether to gamble with an autumn crop or hold off until the spring."

Rapeseed is valued at about £5.70 to £5.85/kg for first choice Apex (depending on treatment), with Rapier at about £5.95/kg and Bristol at £6.05/kg. &#42

Seed stocks come off the line at Cargills Swinderby plant, Lincs. Supplies of most malting barleys are short and pricey. But, with the drilling window running out for winter OSR, some merchants are facing cancellations.