The long wait endured by Scotland’s grain farmers for new malting barley varieties to challenge the market leader could come to an end this year, with some real contenders for supplying the distilling market set to be available in commercial quantities for sowing this spring.
While Concerto, which currently accounts for more than 75 per cent of barley crop grown in Scotland, has the exact qualities to suit the distillers – low nitrogen levels and high spirit yields – growers have been looking for varieties with better agronomic characteristics. This was especially evident after the 2015 growing season saw a large amount of the crop rejected by the maltsters for skinning issues.
But yesterday the plant breeding company Syngenta claimed that its new variety, Laureate, had characteristics which still suited the distillers but which also offered better yields and disease resistance to suit the grower.
With the national recommended list yields showing an 11 percentage point yield benefit for the new variety over Concerto, and better rhynchosporium and ramularia resistance, the company’s seed and seed treatment’s sales manager, Samantha Brooke, said Laureate offered Scottish growers a real alternative.
She said: “Agronomically, Laureate has also shown low screenings and skinning levels about half the level of Concerto.
“It also has an excellent combination of disease resistance and untreated yield – and for the second year running Laureate also had the highest untreated yield figure of spring barleys on the AHDB Recommended List.”
She also said Laureate was a dual purpose variety, suitable for both distilling and brewing – which gives it potential access to the export market.
The variety is currently at “provisional 1” status on the Institute of Brewing and Distilling (IODB) Approved list – meaning there would be no 100 per cent guarantee the variety would be accepted until current malting tests were concluded and analysed.
However, Brooke said that such was the trade’s confidence in the variety that 14,000 tonnes – well over the 4,000 required – had been grown last harvest for commercial testing, adding: “And on top of this malting contracts are available this year for growers who want to try Laureate.”
She said: “We estimate that enough seed is available to supply around 6 per cent of the market this year – and while that will not yet see it challenge Concerto’s dominance, we see Laureate as a very strong partner variety for those seeking to spread their risks.”