WITH two malting barleys makiing up well over two-thirds of the certified seed area in England and Wales, growers may seem to have less choice than ever this season.
But there are good reasons why this is the case, according to NIAB cereals specialist Richard Fenwick.
"I cannot recall a time when such a high percentage was in just two varieties," he says. Chariot and Optic, two of only three varieties fully recommended and Institute of Brewing-approved for the whole of the UK, filled 38% and 31% of the seed area south of the border.
There is a similar two-horse race in Scotland between Chariot (on 37% of the seed area) and Prisma (22%), says the SACs David Cranstoun.
"Optic is head and shoulders above the rest for yield," says Mr Fenwick. "But it is too late for the north, say beyond the Borders."
Regionally recommended Prismas performance, like that of Chariot, is well down on Optic, and it is very susceptible to mildew, he notes. "But the northern maltsters love it."
Chariot is early enough for Scottish harvests and resists mildew well, but is very susceptible to rhynchosporium.
Such a concentration in so few varieties might be considered risky in a more widely grown crop, acknowledges Mr Fenwick. "But there were only about 200,000ha of spring barley in England and Wales last year and about 270,000ha in Scotland. There were 2m hectares of wheat in England alone, which puts it in perspective."
Malter Cooper, the only other fully recommended variety for the whole of the UK, has very short straw, which may account for its apparent lack of takers, he believes. "On lighter droughty soils it is perhaps just a bit too short." Although the fourth most widely grown variety for certified seed, after feeder Hart on 7%, it occupied just 4% of last seasons area.
Riviera, regionally recommended for the north-west, has treated yield potential matching Optic and some malting quality, although it is not IOB-approved. Untreated it is the highest listed yielder.
Delibes and Derkado, both regional recommendations for the north, suit specialist whisky and distilling needs. When treated the former is the second highest yielder on the list, but the latter has the lowest output of all.
Relatively low yielding Dandys long straw is appreciated by livestock growers in the north west and south west, says Mr Fenwick.
Of the newcomers, provisionally recommended malter Landlord will be watched with interest this season, says Dr Cranstoun. With Optic not entirely suitable for the north, Tankard losing its IOB provisional approval tag, and Chariot prone to splitting last harvest, a Prisma companion/replacement would be particularly welcome. "If Landlord does not get the thumbs up we could be vulnerable if people want to move out of Prisma."
Yield ratings of
Fully recommended (all regions)
Fully recommended (regional)
Provisionally recommended (all regions)
Provisionally recommended (north east)
Its off, but will it malt? Barley quality was a headache for many growers last season.