Maris Otter Bulletin – February 2021
The start of the new year has not been great for brewers and with the current lockdown looking set to continue, the malaise looks set to last for a while yet. Brewers with canning and bottling facilities are coping OK as consumption in people’s homes remains high (not withstanding ‘dry’ January) and consumers are also prepared to try different beers, often ‘trading up’ and drinking fewer but better, more expensive beer. The malting barley sector has been hit quite hard yet again but rampant feed markets continue to keep values up and with strong global demand, there appears a very strong chance that it will spill over into new crop values. That will help keep the whole grains complex at a higher level than we have experienced over the last few years and malting premiums will have to keep ahead of that curve to attract growers to the market. Premiums this last year have been low due to large supplies and the violent drop off in demand caused by the pandemic.
The Maris Otter price as you know floats above the feed grains and other malting barley prices and the mechanics of the Min-Max contracts will operate as they should, current forward values suggest much better prices than we have seen over the last few seasons. However, there is a long way to go and we are desperate for some sort of normal growing season which will allow you to gather in a high yielding, high spec crop, fingers crossed. We need to avoid a dry spring at all costs as that has been the major contributory factor behind low yields and high nitrogens in the last couple of seasons.
Maris Otter stocks are extremely low and despite the downturn demand remains strong with good demand already emerging in readiness for people to let their hair down and resume some sort of normality in the spring/summer. Lack of travel abroad will lead to a high level of ‘staycations’ which will in turn boost demand for UK beer, this bodes well for re-stocking and meeting the pent-up demand when it comes.
You will be more than aware of yet another very wet winter, although somewhat colder than recent years, crops have remained healthy and in places have continued to develop well. The crop as a whole is in a much stronger condition than this time last year, with more timely sowings leading to much better establishment. Hopefully aphids were controlled effectively in the autumn and damage from BYDV will be avoided.
There are some early indications that soil nitrogen levels are extremely low. We are testing soils at present and will be able to comment further on this soon. If, following the wet winter, we run into dry conditions (as per the last 2 years), the take up of nitrogen becomes critical and we need to try and mitigate the damage done to both yield and grain nitrogens.
There is a strong school of thought to suggest that the doses should be made earlier i.e., 2nd half of Feb and all on by 3rd week in March. However this will clearly depend on the ability to travel, weather conditions and forward forecasts. At present it looks like the relentless wet weather will come to an end as winds switch into a more northerly and easterly flow during the second half of February. As always it will be up to you to manipulate levels of applied N and timing of applications in order to get the crop tillering well and set it up for the year, but more than ever we suggest you need to adopt an approach that guards against the damage that a potential spring drought would cause.
Please be sure to apply Sulphur to the crop as required.
As touched on above, the brewing sector has not escaped the ravages of lockdowns, but there is an air of optimism about the ‘bounce back’ in demand as and when we do start reopening pubs etc… There is certainly a pent up demand and never again will we take for granted being able to enjoy a good pint of beer with friends in one of our many treasured hostelries!
We are always looking for new markets and potential demand with all crops we get involved with and as you can imagine Maris Otter is no exception. Its unique flavour profile, history, provenance and neat fit into lower carbon situations give cause for optimism. Two such markets are as follows:
A new distillery company in Hampshire the River Test Distillery, is using Maris Otter as a ‘botanical’ in its newest gin release – Chalkstream Gold. This is an exclusive for members of the ‘Craft Gin Club’ an organisation which has in excess of 80,000 subscribers. They will each get a bottle and the magazine which accompanies the gin has a lovely article which touches on Maris Otter and the fact that the barley used in Chalkstream Gold is grown next door to the distillery by Richard Macallister on the Longparish Estate. The gin goes on wider release later this summer and we look forward to trying it, if you would like a bottle please let us know and we will see if we can make a bulk purchase.
A National baking company has devised a way in which they can rehydrate Maris Otter malt in order to include it in a range of breads they are developing. Having trialled a few different malts they conclude that Maris Otter has a unique flavour profile adding to the stand out quality of the loaf they are developing and they also love the story behind its history and the fact it is only grown in England. Trials are ongoing but we are in regular contact to keep feeding through information in the hope they run with the concept.
The use of Maris Otter malt in the USA looks to be on the increase again, especially in certain popular beer styles like ‘New England IPA’, this is encouraging as the sector has been hit hard due to the ravages of the pandemic in the USA.
So, amidst the gloom of yet another grey, wet January day there is plenty to be optimistic about. Lets hope this forthcoming growing season is kind to the crop and that we can get everything back on track going forward; We strongly believe there is genuine reason for optimism and we are working with the right people to increase the demand and get you more involved in the supply chain.
If you have any queries regarding your Maris Otter crop or the market in general please do not hesitate to ask your regular RAL contact or contact us here on firstname.lastname@example.org
Best of luck
8th February 2021