The Scottish whisky distilling industry will have to import malt this year to meet a shortfall in Scottish supplies, according to Bob King, commercial director of Crisp Malting Group, which operates two malting plants in Scotland.
And imports may be necessary in future years to meet the burgeoning world-wide demand for whisky, King warned growers this week at seminars at Oldmeldrum and Perth held by the UK’s largest farmer owned grain marketing co-op, Openfield.
“Scotch whisky has to be distilled in Scotland but the malt to make it can come from anywhere,” he reminded growers.
But this was like a red rag to a bull for NFU Scotland vice-president John Picken, chairman of the union’s combineable crops committee, who accused King of trying to blackmail growers by threatening to import malt if Scotland could not supply enough barley for Scottish malting barley requirements.
“You will get all the barley you want if you come up with the right price and set up a supply chain to give farmers the confidence to grow spring barley to meet your requirements,” said Picken.
King retorted that he was being misunderstood and he was simply explaining that supplies of barley suitable for malting were likely to remain short.
“I won’t be importing barley – all the barley for our Scottish maltings comes from Scotland – but our customers might have to import malt if they can’t get enough in Scotland,” he said.
“Whisky distillers’ preference is to get their malt from Scottish maltsters. Why would they want to ship malt at great expense into Scotland from England or from the continent if they can buy it locally?”
Maltsters and distillers were concerned about future supplies of malting barley in Scotland with projections of a shortfall of more than 100,000 tonnes to meet distillers’ requirements.
“This is why distillers are setting up supply chains and offering multi-year contracts to secure their future supplies,” said King. “They can no longer take the risk of buying on the spot market. These days are gone.”
He admitted that the scope for increasing the spring barley acreage in Scotland was limited because of the increasing demand for wheat for both distilling and ethanol production and the high profitability of alternative crops such as oilseed rape.
The hope was that plant breeders would come up with new varieties to increase yields and reduce rejections.
King said the main demand would continue to be for distilling rather than brewing, which was in decline, with Concerto likely to remain the favoured variety until newer potential malting barleys, such as Moonshine, were proven.
He congratulated the co-ops, Aberdeen Grain and Angus Cereals, who had established impressive grain drying and storage facilities at Newmachar and Montrose. Openfield act as marketing agents for both co-ops.
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