Winter barley OK, but fear for quality of spring crop

Early indications suggest winter barley yields and quality have not suffered too much in the prolonged hot, dry weather through June and July, but growers and merchants are beginning to fear for spring barley quality.

Other than some “slightly thin” samples, quality of the winter barley tested by H Banham in north Norfolk had been reasonable, grain trader Tom Rivett said.

“Nitrogens in Maris Otter are about 1.5%, with screenings between 5 and 8%.”

That could mean some small deductions for screenings above 6%, but generally it was acceptable, he added.

Pearl averaged about 1.65% N and 3% screenings, while grain nitrogen in Fanfare was “OK” at 1.6-1.7%, although screenings were a little higher at 6-10%.

“Fanfare is a slightly thinner barley, which is more suited to poorer land, which suffers most in the dry weather.”

Yields were not going to break any records, growers had told him.

“Maris Otter, which is an older, lower yielding variety, is doing around 2.1-2.15t/acre (5.25-5.4t/ha), while the others are yielding 2.5-2.75t/acre (6.25-6.9t/ha).”

Slightly higher yields were being reported by East Anglian grain co-op Camgrain’s Philip Darke.

“Flagon is outyielding Pearl, doing just over 3t/acre (7.5t/ha), while Pearl is just under 3t/acre.

“Most people are pleased with their Flagon yields, although there have been one or two [barley] mosaic [virus] problems.

There is not much ergot about though.”

Grain quality had been good so far, he said.

“It’s good quality, big bold grains.”

Winter barley had held on reasonably well despite the heat, Stephen Howlett, Grainfarmers’ East Anglian regional manager, said.

“Nitrogens are very variable, ranging from 1.6 to 1.9s, but that is no different to normal.

Yields are maybe 0.25t/acre down on last year.

It won’t be a vintage year.”

He estimated about 50-60% of the crop had been harvested.

“Bushel weights have been pretty good.”

In the south Robin Appel’s barley buyer Jonathan Arnold said quality indications were good.

“There has been a bit of splitting, but not as much as we’d feared given the [alternate] wet and dry season.

Yields are not great, but it’s all very usable for malting.”

Traders feared for spring barley quality as the hot spell continued.

“It is hurting the spring barley,” Mr Darke said.

“We’re all expecting it to be very variable.”

Mr Rivett was equally worried about spring barley.

“They haven’t had the rain to finish them off.”

The first spring barley sample at Grainfarmers had high screenings, Mr Howlett reported.

“It had obviously died off in the intense heat, as everything will be.”

But spring barley in the south grown on chalk soils appeared to have held on reasonably well, Mr Arnold said.

“The rain we had earlier was a godsend on the chalk.

But the rest will be very variable.”

If spring barley quality had suffered it could lead to better malting premiums being available for good quality barley, he said.

“It is a little bit too early to say, and the maltsters are geniuses in what they can use, but on the face of it specific parcels of good quality could attract better premiums.”