Spring Malting Barley Bulletin

Spring Malting Barley

Well, following a summer like that, this year was never going to be easy for anyone involved in malting barley and that is certainly proving to be the case.

From the dry spell of April/May through to the atrocious weather between 15th July (St Swithuns day!) and right through to September it has proved to be yet another roller coaster of a year. With 8 months or so remaining to next harvest there is a long way to go yet. However, there are lots of reasons to be optimistic going forward as well as lots of issues to be sorted over the next few weeks and months. Far too many to cover in detail here but we will touch on the more important ones.

Worth mentioning at this point that with so many issues at stake involving both the malting barley market and the wider agricultural and political scene, that our annual malting barley conference, which we co-host with Syngenta, will take place this year on the 5th December 2017 at the Norton Park Hotel, nr Winchester, SO21 3NB. As usual we have a great array of speakers and look forward to seeing you there. Further details will follow shortly and as you can imagine lots to discuss.

Keeping your barley alive:

Not wishing to state the obvious, but the key to this is a low moisture content, low temperature and keeping it ventilated. Following the wet harvest moistures are higher than we would like to see, however this is exacerbated by inaccurate moisture meter readings. We have discussed this many times and there does not seem to be an answer, but there is no doubt that farm meters are again reading lower than the static Foss Infratec system. Not only does this cause problems on intake but also with your ability to store your barley correctly. We are re-sampling barley over the next few weeks which will give you an idea as to how accurate your meters are, we do recommend that you get them calibrated on 2017 crop barley against an Infratec machine.

We have not really had the chance to get barley temperatures down significantly yet but early November does historically produce the odd frosty night, please be on the lookout for this and take every opportunity to get temperatures down as far and as fast as you can.

There is no doubt that the area within a 30 mile radius of Winchester is the ‘epicentre’ of malting barley problems and seemed to get the worst of the weather. Not only does this area have higher than normal nitrogen, lower than normal yields (due to field losses) but is also the worst area for pre-germination. As you know pre-germination is split into two categories – Viable pre-germination (VPG) & non-viable pre-germination (NVPG). Viable pre-germ means that the barley should re grow and be able to modify into malt, whereas non-viable pre-germ means it has gone too far and whilst the grain may not exhibit visible sprouts the embryo has moved sufficiently so as it will die and therefore not be able to be modified into malt. The key to keeping pre-germinated barley viable is low moisture, temperature and plenty of oxygen and of course to get it malted as soon as it is possible. Judging by the amazing amount of spring barley volunteers in stubbles this year you can see just how ready they were to grow. We will cover this in more detail on the 5th December.

The determination of germination is done through a tetrazolium stain test whereby 100 individual grains are cut in half and immersed in the solution under vacuum for 15 minutes and counted off, this takes approx. 30 minutes per test, hence it is used on intake. The more accurate test takes place over 72 hours and assesses the energy of the barley and how able it is to grow. Results so far on these tests are fairly encouraging. Providing the barley has not died completely it appears that the pre-germinated grains will re grow. It will be interesting to see the test results on the first batches of malt made out of new crop barley.

The Market

For now, all appears calm and the market drifts as a lot of malting barley has been both bought and sold by all parties since the autumn of 2016 especially in the October to December period. So there is an awful lot to sort out. Our domestic and European maltster customers require either delivery of the physical malting barley or a financial settlement against sales contracts we have with them. Malt will have been sold against these purchases and brewers and distillers will have budgeted against them. Therefore the whole supply chain has to perform to retain its credibility and we are mixing and matching as to what can go where and who is accepting to what different standards. The unravelling is taking its time but we are getting there and working closely with end users to establish fallbacks, acceptance levels etc…

Whilst we are still attempting to establish the supply and demand figures for the 2017 harvest a brief synopsis is as follows:

The UK planted 750,000 ha of spring barley which has delivered approx. 4.9mt of barley, at a 50% success rate this leaves us with just shy of 2.5mt of malting barley with a requirement of 2.2mt of malting barley.

The Scottish harvest has only just finished with approx. 100,000t of barley lost in fields mostly in western Aberdeenshire. The rest of the Scottish harvest was good – decent yields and low nitrogen.

The German barley crop was, like ours, hit hard by the weather.

The French crop is patchy

The Danish crop is good, decent yields and low nitrogen – they are the shining light of the northern hemisphere with a high exportable surplus, circa 1mt.

By the time of our conference in early December we will have a far better understanding of these issues and myself and Jack Watts will be able to throw some further light on it.


We seem to say it every year ‘this is not the year to judge varieties’ but we will report on our findings of handling/sampling and testing a big tonnage of all the major ones:

Propino – Still the favourite brewing variety amongst domestic and overseas maltster and brewer customers. Although now slightly behind the leading pack on yield it has been consistent. No sign of skinning this year but nitrogens are high and has suffered with pre-germination.

RGT Planet – Top yielding variety and lower grain nitrogen, has performed well but still struggling to get a foothold in the market. Could have brackling issues and has suffered from pre-germination.

Laureate – Bred from Concerto, could be a major variety as it brews and distills, its germination stood up better than other varieties and very high yields, demand is growing.

Concerto – Still the benchmark variety for malt quality, although lagging behind on yield, its performance in the field does not reflect the gap shown in trials or recommended list, a good following still and will command good premiums at lower nitrogens.

Irina – It hangs on in there but limited demand and still an issue over its grain size mean its popularity will decrease further.

Odyssey – Has done really well this year, with robust germination and relatively good grain nitrogen, demand will wain and a good time to switch to Laureate.

With the problematic harvest, a wet start to autumn and a continued swing toward spring cropping demand for spring barley seed will be high, we therefore recommend getting orders & areas in fairly quickly. All our seed has been tested and will qualify at Higher level and will be tested again prior to processing & certification.

As always if you have any further issues you would like to raise please feel free to do so using enquiries@robin-appel.com or talk to your regular Robin Appel Ltd point of contact.

Please do call us with any issues you may have.


Jonathan Arnold

1st November 2017