Barley Crop Outlook March 2014


At the end of February, as we ‘chalked up’ one of the wettest winters on record, it was hard to imagine when Spring drilling would begin. Yet by the middle of March much of the 2014 Spring barley crop was sown, and into kind seedbeds. That the barley then took another 14 days to emerge is testimony to lower soil temperatures than sometimes experienced, echoed by the later emergence of green leaf in the hedgerows. But the warm sunshine and continued showery weather in the south is ideal.


So, with a promising start, in a few weeks time, Spring barleys could well compliment the good looking winter barleys, and give the malting industry the confidence of another quality harvest. Quality maybe, but not quantity – the overall quantity will be back down to more ‘normal’  levels this year, levels that should generate premiums for growers which are more equitable with the perceived risk.


Demand for Spring barley varieties suitable for distilling, Concerto and Odyssey, is reflected in the early estimates of plantings, with brewing only varieties, Tipple, Propino and Sanette collectively conceding market share to these two. It is a demand set to prevail, because following expanded demand in Scotland, we are now witnessing the emergence of a whole raft of Craft Distilleries south of the border. This new waive of brands has already impacted the Gin market, and along with Vodka, Whisky is on all of their portfolios.


More interestingly, they are all targeting the premium market of the ‘single malts’ with variety and provenance of their barley treated with a deference that is totally alien to the global brands. This is a new opportunity for some barley growers, but only those who take the long view. Whisky cannot be sold until it is at least 3 years old, and much of it will remain in cask for a lot longer than that. So it would not do for one of these illustrious new brands to come to market, only for its provenance to be trashed, because the whole farm where the barley was grown, has now been turned over to maize production for a bio-digester. Only whisky afficionados should apply!