Barley backlash is on the cards
Rapid early harvesting
turned to patchy progress
this week, as conditions
deteriorated across the
country. But trends are
emerging, with oilseed rape
particularly pleasing, while
early winter barley yields
prove average at best, with
variable quality and
atrocious prices. farmers
weeklys arable team reports
the key messages over the
following five pages
WINTER barley, worth as little as £50/t with malting premiums of only £8-10/t, is no longer worth growing, say farmers combining early crops. But the trade disagrees, one seed supplier believing next seasons area will be no less than this harvest.
Despite above average yields Norfolk-based Robin Baines is dropping the crop. "We cant go on producing it if the base price is not good enough," he says.
In Oxon Nick Cobbold plans only 32ha (80 acres) after having 240ha (600 acres) only a few years ago. "Its worth nothing," he comments. In the Thames valley Colin Rayner describes his Pearl barley as "worthless".
Former farmers weekly barometer farmer Roger Middleditch expects his poorer Suffolk land will probably go into set-aside rather than winter barley after this years result.
Base prices as low as £50/t and malting premiums of only £8-10/t make it hard to justify a slot for the crop, several commentators acknowledge. The chances of not achieving the desired quality merely add to the risk.
"You need 10t/ha to cope with these sorts of figures, which is very difficult to get with barley," says ADASs John Garstang. "But I still expect the area to crawl back up again – we had only a dead cat bounce after the terrible autumn of 2000." (see table.)
"Some people have already decided that winter barley wont feature next year," admits Banks Cargills Jonathan Hoyland, who believes brewers rather than maltsters are largely behind low malting premiums.
"Malting prices are low all over Europe and its only a matter of time before there is a backlash. The question is whether it will be in 2003 or 2004."
However, in a slow seed market Dalgety has seen no cancelled barley orders yet, says Barry Barker. "I will personally give £25 to charity if the overall winter barley area is not at least as big as this seasons." The potential of modern six-row feed varieties like Siberia is his main reason.
But he is not prepared to forecast a similar £25/t rise in the premium, which is needed to tempt many disillusioned malting growers to stay with the crop. "The premium would need to be doubled to ensure sufficient malting growers in the long run."
Nickerson Seeds Frank Curtis believes growers thinking of giving up the crop are probably ignoring the knock-on costs. The crops rotational and fixed cost benefits should not be ignored, he says.
Few farms are big enough to adopt 50% set-aside and strip out fixed costs to match, he argues. Winter barley spreads drilling and harvest workloads, suits a wider range of soil types than wheat, has valuable straw and Intervention support, he adds. "And you shouldnt forget that world beer production is growing 2% a year." *
• No longer worth producing.
• Low prices main reason.
• Area for 2003 in doubt.
• Malting prices backlash?
No problem with specific weight here, says Mark Dobson, checking 2-row barley variety Jewel on the Pusey Estate, Oxon. But elsewhere six-row barley specific weights have been cause for concern.
Miserable prices mean winter barley will not feature again, says Norfolk farmer Robin Baines.