26 June 1998

Right market key to profit

On-farm inspections in this

years Barley-to-Beer

competition run by DuPont,

the HGCA, and farmers weekly

in association with Moray

Firth Maltings and Scottish

Courage Brewing took place

recently. Andrew Blake

begins our profiles of the

finalists with reports from

Hampshire and Devon

TARGETING known markets and getting as close to them as possible is the basis of John Chalcrafts formula for success in the malting world.

Mr Chalcraft has long produced barley both for seed and malting on the familys 263ha (650-acre) New Farm, Kings Somborne, near Stockbridge. His competition entry is Maris Otter, grown on a two-year contract for West Country maltster Edwin Tucker & Sons via local merchant Robin Appel, who he describes as a dedicated and enthusiastic supporter of niche but growing malting markets.

"Brewers and retailers of beer continue to entice consumers with new specialist ales, but quality seems to be associated with using traditional varieties," says Mr Chalcraft. Interest in Otter appears to be increasing, with the area sown expected to rise 11% to 8000ha (20,000 acres) next season, he says. Melanie is also grown under a three-year WHD Elite Malt Scheme contract.

"If the market had not led us into closer ties with our end-users I am sure that traceability would have done so. The beauty of these contracts is that even in problem years they will try to take it."

He pays tribute to the chemical manufacturers whose new products have permitted a return to older varieties like Otter with its inherent weakness to disease.

The Test Valley land, mainly Grade 3 light loam over chalk, with an annual rainfall of 660mm (26in) also supports wheat for seed and both milling and malting, spring barley, soya beans, and sugar beet for seed, peas for feed and commercial oilseed rape. "There is no doubt that these less fertile soils are suited to malting barley production," he says. "For malting contracts we tend to select fields at the end of a rotation."

Otter yields are fundamentally low, though with a potential £65/t premium gross margins can be good. Last year output dipped to 4.4t/ha (1.8t/acre), but in 1995 he achieved 5.9t/ha (2.4t/acre). So all operations are geared to achieving good samples.

"We try to avoid any husbandry decisions that will lead to high screenings such as high plant populations and secondary tillering."

Target grain nitrogen for the best premium is 1.45-1.5, and Mr Chalcraft employs ADAS soil mineral N tests to help determine top dressings. "We started using them when we returned to Otter four or five years ago. Since then we have not had any high nitrogens, though we may have sacrificed some yield.

"I do all the spraying myself with an MB-trac mounted Airtec, often in the evenings to get the timing as right as possible," Mr Chalcraft adds.

JOHN CHALCRAFT

&#8226 Niche market Maris Otter.

&#8226 High potential premium.

&#8226 Thin chalky soils.

&#8226 Soil min N test guidance.

John Chalcrafts Maris Otter is not the newest of varieties, but is still in demand and modern fungicides help keep it clean, he says.