AS SCOTLAND’S farmers this week awaited a weather window to begin the spring barley harvest in earnest, a major summit aimed at strengthening the supply chain, increasing malting capacity in Scotland and securing the provenance of Scotch whisky was announced.
With exports continuing to grow apace, the Scottish whisky industry has the capacity to increase production and, given the right weather, few doubt that farmers and growers can gear up to supply the malting barley required for this booming sector.
However, the shortfall in malting capacity – the processing facilities which turn the barley into the actual malt – on this side of the Border currently means that a considerable proportion of Scottish grain has to be taken south – or abroad – for processing.
Fears have been raised in the past that this double trip could put Scottish malting barley at a price disadvantage – and that it might encourage the importation of cheaper foreign malt.
This week NFU Scotland urged the Scottish Government to help the situation and reduce this exposure of the Scottish cereal sector to market volatility. Writing to Scotland’s Cabinet Secretary Richard Lochhead, the union said the unique strength of the Scotch whisky sector and the position of malting barley as the nation’s dominant crop presented an opportunity to support and drive arable production for years to come.
“We believe the time is right to bring together all players in the malt supply chain – growers, maltsters and distillers – and pull together a strategy to ensure the sector’s continued growth and well-being,” said NFU Scotland president, Nigel Miller. And, apparently knocking on an open door, the call was welcomed by Lochhead, who said whisky was an iconic brand which was hugely important to the Scottish economy, stating: “We must do all we can to support every stage of its production here in Scotland – from our barley farmers through to our whisky producers – to maintain its provenance credentials.
“That is why, following discussions with various stakeholders, I am proposing to host a summit in October for all those with an interest in the malt supply chain.”
Welcoming the positive response, Miller said: “Scottish growers will always be challenged by volatility, a short growing season and – as this week has sadly demonstrated – a challenging climate. However, the burgeoning success of Scottish whisky presents a unique, long-term opportunity for our growers that can support and drive sustainable production in the years ahead.
He said that as the industry moved into a new CAP era, many farm businesses were reviewing their production systems and attempting to future-proof business models. Clear market signals and balanced contracts built around a clear vision would, he claimed, help safeguard the future supply of crops such as malting barley and distilling wheat.
“This is the right moment for the Scottish Government to bring all players in the malt supply chain together to discuss a strategy to link malting barley growers to Scotland’s distilleries through a collaborative pact.”
He said government help in delivering such a pact would underpin production and safeguard the crop area.