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Spring Malting Barley Bulletin – March 2018

To all growers of Spring Malting Barley

 Have Faith, the forecast looks drier (if not a bit colder) from the weekend onwards. As you know conditions are far more important than calendar date, so although we are later than in the previous few years, as long as the forecast holds true most light land barley will be in and up before the end of March. Two points to watch: How the crop drilled in February compares to the March/April sown crops? And following a very wet 3 months what does the next 3 months hold?

There is no question that global weather is now constantly delivering extremes and this will continue to cause problems with crop production around the world, especially with quality crops like malting barley. This added volatility makes marketing decisions for you, the primary producer of an essential raw material in the brewing and distilling process, even harder and also makes life hard for the maltster and of course the brewer and distiller. We are now very nearly through the marketing and movement of the 2017 crop (thank the lord!), one which will stick long in the memory (for all the wrong reasons) and about to embark on the sowing of the 2018 spring barley crop. As with this time last year, on paper we will have a big surplus of malting barley in Europe, but in reality what will the weather do to it when we eventually plant the crop throughout northern Europe and Scandinavia? And of course what will the ticking time bomb that is Brexit do to both the currency and our ability to load and customs clear barley boats out of the UK. Sorry to disappoint you but we do not have the answers, but amid the doom and gloom of it all we do have some really interesting initiatives, supply chains and marketing aids all designed to connect you to markets and protect your profitability, more on these later and as the season develops.

Please find herewith what is hopefully some useful information regarding malting barley:

Sowing and Nitrogen

As we have discussed many times in the previous few years there is a compelling body of evidence that applying a large percentage (up to 75%) of nitrogen in or on the seedbed at, before or just after sowing can help to keep grain nitrogen’s low and not jeopardise yield. It also gets nitrogen close to the seed and the rootlets to get the crop established which could be a great help this season. Please also take great care in not applying too much nitrogen, we constantly hear reports that amounts up to and over 175kg/ha will not jeopardise malting quality and will maximise yields. This is not only a waste of your money but will really hinder the possibility of producing a malting sample. Especially this year where we expect warmer temperatures and crops to speed through their development. Late take up of Nitrogen combined with dry weather last year combined to produce higher than normal grain nitrogen’s.

We are convinced that production of too many heads per M2 and the biomass produced make the breakdown of the crop to diseases all the more dramatic, makes brackling worse and as witnessed last year accelerates the loss of quality in poor harvest conditions. Experts and plant breeders will scoff at this but we remain convinced that a combination of these factors and our consistently wet Augusts are not a good mix.


Propino remains the most sought after variety for maltsters and brewers alike. It will retain its place with many growers. However, RGT Planet looks like it will take a large area for the 2018 crop. The French crop will be in the region of 75% Planet so this will need watching with great interest. As you are aware it takes some time for brewers to get used to brewing with a new malt variety and hence the resistance to buy a lot of Planet.

Concerto remains popular with the distilling market in Scotland and will remain a big variety, Laureate is hot on its heels. Laureate was significantly more robust in the field last harvest and with high yields it could prove to be a very popular ‘dual purpose’ variety.

Varieties to watch are Limagrains Diablo and RGT Asteroid.


Laureate and Concerto should be aimed at the distilling market and grown to achieve a max 1.65%N sample. Early application of nitrogen will help in achieving this. Propino and RGT Planet are both out and out brewing varieties and whilst there is demand for these at a lower nitrogen band, they need to achieve a max 1.85%N sample.

Soil residue levels are average this year with recent cold, wet weather not allowing for mineralisation. We are early enough to not yet scale down planned applications, last years’ experience and a potential dry spell should combine to dissuade you from applying too much nitrogen.

Seed Rates

If we do run later and seed beds prove to be similar to last year, where sub-surface conditions remain cold and wet, it may prove beneficial to increase seed rates. We have kept back tonnages of all major varieties if you need to increase seed rates.


With last year’s harvest still very much fresh in the memory there is a very understandable reticence to sell forward, especially at a fixed price. Rather than bang on about what might and might not happen we have listed below the key issues that will influence the market this year:

Old crop – Europe will go into the 2018-2019 season on ‘bare boards’ – therefore not allowing for any weather issues which might delay the harvest (Europe uses >200k tonnes malting barley/week) or reduce the amount of spring barley available.

Currency – With a little over 12 months remaining to ‘B’ Day, the relationship between £ and € will be volatile – £ weakness will improve prices.

Varieties – French crop will be 75% Planet – they will need a dry harvest!

Feed Barley – very firm global demand, supply will be influenced by new crop but demand looks to stay firm.

Weather – French crop already late going in, Spring conditions critical to UK and European crop, growing conditions will cause concern over the next 4-5 months.

The way forward is Min-Max prices or take minimum premiums as cover, and look at fixing base price. We can tailor make an approach for you as and when you feel you want to look at marketing options. It is important to maintain belief in your ability to produce world class malting barley, last year was surely, hopefully a ‘blip’!

The Grain Trade

You will probably have picked up in the press over the last few weeks that Dalmark Grain, a long established grain merchant in East Anglia, have withdrawn from grain trading. You will also be aware of newcomers in the market ‘buying’ their way in with crazy farm prices. That is a well-trodden road and unlikely to last (as Wellgrain proved last year).

We have specialised in ‘added value’ sectors over the last few years and this approach is one we will remain with. This last year has seen some fairly brutal contractual issues, as a company we took the decision early on to take a longer term view (as we have done in the past) and we have managed to negotiate our way through the problems by judicious sampling and testing and working hard with our end user customers. Crop 2016 presented us with skinned grain issues which we sorted where others did not and no doubt there will be further issues as we go forward. However, it is quite clear that we have some seriously good ‘blue chip’ malting companies, brewers and distillers to supply malting barley to at home and abroad and we are backed by you, some of the world’s best malting barley growers to supply them. We have a fantastic team at Robin Appel Ltd and are working hard at some very exciting opportunities which will present themselves as we go forward.

The buzz words at present in the industry are traceability and glyphosate – more of them in future bulletins but we need to ensure that no glyphosate is applied to malting barley crops pre harvest.

Good luck with the spring sowing campaign and I look forward to speaking and/or seeing you over the next few weeks and months. As always if you have any queries about anything in this bulletin please do get in touch with your contact at Robin Appel Ltd or via


Jonathan Arnold

16th March 2018