Spring Malting Barley Conference 2017


More than 120 farmers gathered for Robin Appel Ltd’s annual Malting Barley Conference at Norton Park, Hampshire, on 5th December. Their attendance was very well worthwhile.

Jack Watts, Lead Analyst at AHDB, delivered his last paper under this title before joining the NFU in January 2018, and bowed out on a more or less optimistic note.

Focusing on malting barley to begin with, he began by pointing out that global beer consumption has plateaued, China and India’s increasing demand just about balancing the decline elsewhere, including Britain and Germany. But the global malting barley supply and demand balance (4.35m tonnes) was fragile, because one of the leading suppliers, Canada (1.0m tonnes), is reducing barley production in favour of other crops, and the other major exporter, Australia, is consistently an unreliable supplier.

In the UK, spring barley production continues to expand, at the expense of wheat, creating the potential for a very big export market in a bumper harvest year. But, Jack warned, much of this barley would be feed grade, which, post Brexit, may not be that easily disposed of.
Francois Sonneville, Senior Analyst at Rabobank, delivered an even more positive message when he followed by dissecting the global beer market. Global consumption is estimated at 195 billion litres per annum, demanding 26m tonnes of malt. Nine brewers now control 66% of the global market, but the Craft Beer sector continues to impact their market with a threefold growth since 2010.
In terms of global beer consumption, areas of potential growth are Latin America, Africa and Asia. This could represent up to 5% increase in the demand for malt, which not only represents the continued expansion of Craft Brewers, but also the need for global brands to “up their game” by using more malt in their beers. At the moment Craft Brewers use x4 more malt than the global brewers, but the worldwide trend to drink a little less beer, but better quality, was something Francois was certain all brewers needed to address.

The problem the industry faces is a serious geographical imbalance between barley production, malting capacity, and beer consumption. Construction of new breweries was being reviewed alongside new malting capacity, and even new barley production previously not considered practical e.g the uplands of Ethiopia. The more likely outcome would be a focus on integrated supply chains, malting the barley close to the production areas, and exporting the malt. It was this, of course, which all the malting barley growers in the room wanted to hear!

Iain Hamilton of Syngenta presented some really interesting information around barley diseases and how we must all be aware of ramularia and although hard to confirm its presence it is a serious risk to malting barley crops. Along with the helpful & accurate laboratory here at Robin Appel Ltd Iain has been running trials over the last few years focusing on nitrogen application and the relationship between nitrogen application, yield & grain quality. The results have been very interesting and we are starting to create a real picture of the interaction between agronomic approach and malting results. Although every year seems to be so different from the previous year, we are starting to see a picture emerge and it proves that applying above 150kg/hs has little benefit in increasing yield and of course runs the risk of increasing grain nitrogen in a dry year (such as 2017).

We will be running the trials again this year and will look forward to seeing the results again in what is bound to be a very different season to this last one.

Jonathan Arnold, Malting Barley Director, Robin Appel Ltd, delivered a review of the very challenging 2017 malting barley harvest, pointing out that while Hants/Wilts/Dorset had probably faired, weather-wise, a lot worse than the rest of the country, he had achieved a whole raft of successful delivered contracts of what some might have described as marginal barleys, by working closely with consumers, and producers, in a thoroughly practical and more pragmatic way.
Jonathan flagged up the barleys to plant for 2018, encouraging the continued support for Propino, whilst urging a more measured enthusiasm for the new varieties Laureate and Planet.

He then closed the proceedings by awarding the 2017 Spring Barley Trophy to Geoff Elliott on behalf of Pollhampton Farms.