CONFUSION ALL ROUND IN TRADE
TRADER Chris Toft of Cargill says specialist brewers who want certain varieties are quite willing to pay premiums for them.
"The sales maltster has to come to terms with that, but at the moment he is fighting the strength of sterling and slow off-take.
"His other dilemma is more serious. The market is cyclical, and if it is too depressed and set-aside increases he is back to square one. If set-aside goes back up to 10%, it would come straight out of spring barley and put prices up again."
There is some interest in buying barley for 1998 and 1999 on the part of brewers, some of whom think current prices are worth locking into. But there is little interest from maltsters, as they have limited scope for reducing their risk on the malting premium and availability.
The reluctance of maltsters to give forward commitments will make it doubly difficult for growers making variety choices for this autumn. By the law of averages one of the new varieties will fall from favour this harvest because of yield or quality problems associated with the conditions of this particular season, says Mr Toft.
Many traditional UK brewers still want winter barleys, but the European and world markets on the whole prefer malt produced from spring varieties.
"The UK market still wants Halcyon," says Mr Toft. "In world market terms, it is spring malting barleys that are wanted, and Chariot is well established as the UKs number one, with Optic as a follow up in England."