Annual Malting Barley Conference

A Most Stimulating Malting Barley Conference

Mark Hall, the European marketing director for Syngenta, delivered the opening and keynote presentation at our 11th Malting Barley Conference on December 6th at Norton Park.

Mark acknowledging that whist we are facing uncertain times (post Brexit) he pointed out that the drivers of our industry emphatically remained the same. There are four areas where Brexit could deliver profound changes: 1) International Trade – the possible change (relaxation) of regulations; 2) Farm Support Payments – almost certain to be skewed more towards environmental support; 3) Labour Access – horticulture depends on a 80-90,000 migrant workforce, which may decline in availability; 4) Technology – perhaps a more pragmatic approach to GMO’s?

Whatever the outcome, Mark felt that the profitability of arable farmers was set to decline, and he called for farm rents to reflect this. It was quite simple, fertilizer and chemical prices were set to increase, and wheat and support prices set to fall.

But he emphasised Syngenta’s commitment to UK agriculture – Syngenta is a £15bn company, employing 2,000 people, and investing £1.5bn per year in R&D, of which a disproportionate amount was invested in the UK. This was because the UK, with our complex of world class universities, was one of the best environments for research.

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Jack Watts, lead analyst at AHDB began his presentation by declaring that we are already at the ‘transitional stage of Brexit’! Factors set to further impact our grain markets were the ongoing Brexit negotiations, American politics, and the size and quality of the next European crops.

With an ongoing global glut of wheat and maize, and China continuing to cut back on imports, it made good sense to focus inwards on domestic and premium markets. For example: in Scotland the barley acreage is in decline, and farmers north of the border have had another very open autumn (planting wheat) so there was a very real chance of production of Scottish malting barley falling well short of demand, this against the backdrop of a vibrant distilling industry focusing on increased export projections for premium malt whisky.

Bob King, commercial director of the Crisp Malting Group, was very keen to respond to Syngenta’s promotion of their new malting barley variety Laureate. When it comes to new barley varieties “there is always a bottleneck”!

Whilst distillers are quite responsive, brewers are very conservative. Not only that, the global brewers insist on their own testing before approving a new variety, and worse, they were selecting and exploiting their own varieties at the expense of any others that may be judged top of the Recommended List.

Going forward, Bob recommended 1) Propino for the UK and Japanese market, 2) KWS Irina for ABInbev, 3) Planet for Carlsberg, 4) Laureate – buy seed with caution, it is still on trial with everyone, everywhere.

img_1311Jonathan Arnold, our very own malting barley director, rounded off the conference by endorsing the message from Bob King. He pointed out that in the context of malting barley, while he did not consider himself someone that should advise farmers on pesticide usage, in turn agronomists should not see themselves as qualified advisers on the best varieties to grow!

Then, strictly from a marketing perspective, Jonathan went on to stimulate a lively debate on the pre-harvest use of Roundup on malting barley. Interestingly, the widespread response from the farmer audience was strongly in favour of a self imposed ban! NFU to take note!

Winners of the 2016 Spring Malting Barley Challenge

1st Mark Dunford, M Dunford & Son, preshaw, nr Winchester, Hants. – Propino

2nd James Loder-Symonds, Nonington Farms, Canterbury, Kent.-RGT Planet

3rd John Maxted, Maxted Farms, east Ilsey, Newbury, Berks. – Propino