Barley growers offered premium to supply Budweiser

Growing malting barley on heavy land is has usually been a hopeless task, until now. The brewer of Budweiser is looking for high nitrogen grain and offering a premium, so this could be just the answer for heavy-land growers struggling with blackgrass in middle England. 

The world’s biggest brewer is looking for English barley to produce its Budweiser beer offering non-malting barley growers a premium and an answer to their blackgrass woes.

Anheuser-Busch InBev is planning to use home-grown barley to replace imported malt to feed its UK breweries and could be looking for 40,000t plus of barley.

See also: Read more barley stories

Budweiser requires high-enzyme varieties of barley and so the brewer has had to import malt of the French variety Explorer from France and the Czech Republic into the UK.

Now AB InBev is linking up with trader Glencore Grain, the Crisp Malting Group and distribution group Agrii to put together a package for English growers to supply the brewer.

John Rogers, global agricultural development director at AB InBev, says the group will need more malting barley due to the growth of the beer brand in the UK.

“We are going to need a lot more Budweiser barley, so why not from here. We would love to have 100% supply from the UK,” he tells Farmers Weekly.

The brewer requires barley of a relatively high-grain nitrogen content of 1.8-1.9%, opening up the possibility of obtaining its supply from heavy-land farms across the southern part of central England.

Maltsters generally look for lower grain nitrogen contents of below 1.65% and so source barley from light, less fertile, land such as in north Norfolk, but this could open up the chance for growers on heavy wheat-growing land getting a malting premium.

Glencore and Agrii are looking for growers from Gloucestershire to Essex and from the M4 to south Leicestershire to source this high nitrogen barley and offer a better price than for the maltsters’ old favourite barley variety Propino.

“We are targeting heavy-land growers, not from north Norfolk, as we are looking for high-nitrogen malting barley,” says Nick Oakhill, senior trader at Glencore Grain.

He says growers entering into contracts to supply barley for Budweiser will be offered a £5/t premium over Propino for 1.8-1.9% nitrogen content grain, and a price equal to Propino if the grain comes within a wider range of 1.60-2.05%.

David Neale, head of crop marketing at Agrii, says the variety Explorer should give Propino or above yields without any obvious agronomic weaknesses and has the advantage that it is early to mature.

“We are looking to grow malting barley on heavy land, and look to match tonnages to the requirement from the brewer,” he says.

Contracts are being based on the area drilled to the crop, so the maltsters and brewer have agreed to take all the crop from contracted farms irrespective of yield.

Richard Pelly

Richard Pelly

Northamptonshire farm manager Richard Pelly is exciting by growing spring malting barley after being forced into spring cropping by the wet autumn of 2012.

He grew the spring barley variety Tipple in 2013 and 2014, achieving good yields and a malting sample even on his predominantly heavy clay land where cropping is largely winter wheat and oilseed rape

This season he is growing 60ha of Explorer on the 1,200ha Wakefield Lodge Estate, Potterspury, some four miles southeast of Towcester, and he says Explorer looks a really interesting spring-sown option of his heavy soils.

“We are learning a lot about growing Explorer and may try to grow spring barley three to four years on the trot to stay on top of blackgrass,” he says.

Oxfordshire farm manager Richard Long grew 14ha of Explorer in 2014 on his Cotswold brash soils and was so impressed that he has more than doubled the area to 33ha this year.

Last season, his Explorer yielded 9.4t/ha compared with Tipple at 8.75t/ha and that’s why all his spring barley at the 540ha Barton Abbey Farms this season is down to the French variety which hit the 1.8-1.9% nitrogen grain nitrogen target in 2014.

“It helps with blackgrass control and it has outyielded the Tipple,” he says.

Bob King, commercial director at Crisp’s, started working with English-grown Explorer in 2013 when about 430t was grown. This increased to 1,300t in 2014 in a season when nitrogen levels were generally low.

This season, 35 growers have drilled 1,500ha which is expected to produce a 10,000t plus crop and if all goes well he hopes to double the tonnage malted in 2016.

“Technically there is a market for 40,000t of this barley,” he says.

This could mean the current area might quadruple to about 6,000ha to meet the total annual demand from the Budweiser brewer.

With such a wide range of nitrogen grain contents being accepted by the maltsters, Mr King advises growers to use an appropriate level of nitrogen fertiliser and not to worry about the grain nitrogen.

“I would advise growers to go for yield and the grain nitrogen will look after itself,” he says.

Agrii’s Mr Neale says there is more leeway with nitrogen fertiliser levels as the brewer is looking for high-grain nitrogen and levels of up to 160kg/ha of nitrogen should be appropriate.

In Agrii trials, the variety has scored well for mildew and brown rust resistance, but is slightly weaker on rhynchosporium and is assessed as a score of 4 on a Recommended List scale.

AB InBev, which also brews Stella Artois, Beck’s and Corona along with ale-type beers Bass and Boddingtons buy 5m tonnes of barley annually or about 20% of all malting barley grown in the world to feed its 140 worldwide breweries.

Instead of using 100% malting barley, it uses 70% malting barley and 30% rice for Budweiser since it started brewing the beer in 1876, and since all the nitrogen comes from the barley it needs a higher nitrogen grain to compensate for the rice.