New spring barley varieties add choice for expanding Scotch whisky market

Two new spring barley varieties should help Scottish and northern English growers meet the increasing demand for Scotch whisky, Syngenta Seeds believes.

Publican, which has full Institute of Brewing and Distilling approval for harvest 2009, will be available in significant quantities for the first time this season, while small volumes of the Recommended List candidate Forensic will be sold ahead of its launch for the 2010 season, says the firm’s Robert Hiles.

Both are being targeted particularly for use in the distilling market and at northern growers.

Yields of Publican, at 104% of the controls in UK HGCA trials, are 8% ahead of the market-dominant variety in Scotland, Optic. Results from the north are even more impressive, particularly in the north-west, where it yielded 106% of the controls.

Part of its strong performance is due to good resistance to the two key diseases in the north – mildew and rhynchosporium. Both are scored as eights by the HGCA. That means an early pre-growth stage 25 fungicide spray is unlikely to be required in all but the highest disease pressure situations, says Syngenta Seeds technical specialist Simon Phillips.

Its one weakness is brown rust, a disease less commonly found in the north. Even so, later sprays should at least address the threat, says Mr Phillips.

The main focus should be on maintaining and prolonging green leaf area for as long as possible, he adds. “We’d advise using Amistar Opti plus a rust-active triazole.”

Growth regulation is unlikely to be needed, with good resistance to lodging and brackling, apart from on very fertile sites, while the total nitrogen use should be similar to Optic.

But Syngenta trials do suggest N timings could be manipulated to help growers keep grain N levels below the 1.55% maximum for distilling. In the trials, putting 75% of the N requirement on at GS11 has led to the lowest grain N levels. “That’s when the plant is growing fastest, so ideally when it should have the most fertiliser available,” he says.

“Whether you put the other 25% on before or after depends on the farm and the situation. For example, if it is good fertile soil, then you probably won’t need any down the spout, whereas if it is a third cereal and so there’s not much fertility, put it in the seed-bed,” Mr Phillips advises.

Similar trials are planned for Forensic, ahead of its full launch next season. Two initial trials indicated that extra N did not increase yield or grain N, but timing could have an significant effect, with a 30:90kg/ha N split between the seed-bed and GS11 again being the best approach for meeting pot still specifications.

If higher proteins are required, applying 60:60kg/ha N split between GS11 and GS26/29 gave the best combination of yield and protein in the trials, says Mr Phillips.

Disease resistance is a little less robust than with Publican. Mildew will need watching, as with Optic, and rhynchosporium and brown rust are also threats. “A good programme is essential – starting with an early application for mildew,” says Mr Phillips.

Seed rates for both varieties should be set at about 375-400 seeds/sq m.

Forensic to take on Decanter in grain distilling market

As well as competing with Optic and Publican for the malt distilling market in Scotland, Forensic is also of interest for grain distilling, says Syngenta’s Robert Hiles.

Initial tests have been promising, with attributes “where the market would like them to be” for the sector, he says.

Similarly to malt distilling, the grain distilling market is also increasing – about 100,000t of barley is now used for the purpose. “The big issue is the lack of varieties,” says Mr Hiles. “Decanter is the main one. Forensic would take yield performance to a new level and help make the sector profitable for farmers.”

In RL trials last year, Forensic yielded 0.5t/ha more than Decanter in the north-east region.

The variety is also suitable for malt distilling – with a three-year yield advantage over Optic of 0.46t/ha. Overall, its yield is 2% lower than Publican, however.