New Opportunities for Malting Barley

Meurig Raymond, the new president of the NFU and long time malting barley supplier to Robin Appel Ltd was the keynote speaker at the company’s annual Malting Barley Conference. Held on 15th December, in Hampshire, the event was again jointly sponsored by Syngenta and Warminster Maltings Ltd.

Jonathan Arnold, malting barley director, kicked off the proceedings, by highlighting that the global demand for malt was continuing to increase. “But production needs to be market driven” he emphasised, whether that be non GN varieties for distilling in Scotland (55% of the market), the UK brewing market, or the export brewing market where the choice of variety had to be one known to the receiving country. He predicted that the number 1 variety in 2015 would be Propino, closely followed by Odyssey (non GN), with the new brewing variety KWS Irina looking very promising. Predicting prices, he suggested that currently £148/t ex farm for Oct was the benchmark export value, the market which should, in the event of another big crop, underwrite UK domestic values. But, of course, that was very much subject to the sterling/euro exchange rate.

Meurig Raymond then followed reporting that in the latest NFU Survey of members’ confidence in the industry, there was a distinctive “downward swing”. He called for Government to adopt “a long term view” of UK agriculture, which then might recognise the need, and offer fiscal support for both “capital and infrastructure investment”. He said he was disappointed at the government’s reaction to the Russian export ban, and he was also disappointed at the government’s reaction to the threatened EU clampdown on pesticide products. While farming contributed £9.2bn to the UK economy, and in the NFU’s most recent survey 90% of the British public recognised the importance of farming, it was very disappointing that UK government seemed to be more concerned about not standing in the way of further punitive EU regulation, than the impact on British agriculture, already battered by the volatility of global markets.

Ian Hamilton from Syngenta set the room buzzing by suggesting that spring malting barley production could withstand even higher nitrogen fertiliser regimes, up to 175kgs/ha. albeit he cautioned more research was required.

Derek Cornes of Syngenta, was, however, completely immersed in research, but into alternative methods of weed control in the event of further pesticide legislation. Mechanical weeding, inter row spraying, ‘spot’ or ‘patch’ spraying of individual weeds using sensors and/or lasers, and, in particular, combinations of these technologies have all been developed. The challenge was to find a commercially viable solution. Small tractors, remotely controlled, fitted with hooded spray nozzles applying diquat mixtures, and working across wider row widths were all being researched, led by an overriding demand from the field vegetables sector.

Jack Watts, chief analyst at the HGCA, rounded of the event by pointing out that in terms of barley demand, the EU was “the powerhouse of global production”. Canada, and South America were both declining forces in this market place. For this reason alone his forecast of a 9% increase in UK barley production in 2015, was less of a threat, more of an opportunity!

Finally, Jonathan Arnold announced the winner of the annual Spring Barley Challenge – NF Pond Farms of Nether Wallop, who win 500 bottles of beer, malted and brewed from their own barley, and bottled under a name and label designed by themselves.