1 August 1997

Pre-germination recurs to plague malting trade

PRE-GERMINATION in winter barley is making maltsters and the trade distinctly cautious. But the subjective nature of the test means some buyers could be making more of the issue than it warrants.

Severe pre-germination, last seen on any extensive scale in 1977, renders grain unfit for malting.

Several factors are thought to be to blame. Heavy June rain falling on drought-stressed relatively mature crops, lodging, and alternate wetting and drying are all thought to be responsible.

The test used to assess pre-germination uses tetrazolium staining of sectioned grain to detect signs of germination, explains Institute of Brewing spokesman Robin Pirie.

"Most samples have slight movement of the germ." The key uncertainty is what effect a 1mm shift, say, may have on malting potential after storage through to next spring, he explains.

"There are differing views around at the moment. But we are fairly confident it is not the major problem this year that some people think it is."

Good representative sampling is vital to make the test meaningful, warns Mike Gutsell of Essex-based maltster Hugh Baird & Sons. Lodged patches can easily distort an overall field picture, he explains.

Northern winter barleys appear mainly unaffected by pre-germination, but there are big question marks over southern crops. "The trade has seized up while people sort it out."

"We are watching the situation quite carefully," says Maltsters Association of Great Britain secretary Ivor Murrell. "We certainly dont want to turn away any good quality barley unnecessarily."

The main snag is that the accepted IOB standard tests, based on fluorescein and methylene blue, take much longer to carry out than tetrazolium screening, he explains.

Pre-germination was always likely this season given the changeable conditions, says NIABs Bill Handley. "So far we have had no reports of it, but we still have about 50% of our trials to come in."

All varieties seem affected, notes Jonathan Arnold of Hants grain merchant Robin Appel. "Its a crop rather than a variety problem."

The fact that Fanfare is already said to be affected suggests earlier concerns over its dormancy may be misplaced, says Mr Pirie. "We have always been confident there would be no problem." Pauls Malt has already taken in plenty of excellent Fanfare samples from the eastern counties, he reports.

PRE-GERMINATION

&#8226 Outwardly invisible embryo movement.

&#8226 Seasonal effect.

&#8226 Extent variable.

&#8226 May make grain unmaltable.

&#8226 Subjective intake test.

&#8226 Effects on long-term storage?

&#8226 Rarer than wheat Hagberg problems.