Big surplus of malting barley brewing up for harvest time

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ALTHOUGH there is not yet a pea of spring barley in the ground, two leading cereal experts predicted there would be a surplus of malting barley produced in Scotland this year.

The only difference between their predictions was how big this might be.

Both experts pointed their fingers to the extremely wet autumn which has prevented the normal acreage of winter wheat and oilseed rape being planted as the basis for their predicted big swing to growing barley this spring.

Speaking in Edinburgh, Ian Keith, a grain trader with Frontier, thought there could be around 80,000 tonnes looking for a home after the maltsters had filled their sheds and that was after discounting up to 10,000 hectares of land left ­fallow.

“My estimate includes a lot of land that could be left unsown with farmers telling me the condition of some of their ground is such they will not plant a spring crop.”

After agreeing with Keith that the malting trade would take all it could, but that was limited in Scotland to about 900,000 tonnes of barley, Eric Anderson, of husbandry advisors, Scottish Agronomy, put his surplus figures higher.

Currently some three-quarters of the Scottish barley acreage is grown with varieties suitable for the malting market. If that percentage remained at that level, he believed there could be anything up to 200,000 tonnes of barley of malting quality ­beyond the maltsters’ capacity.

Both admitted their estimates were based on the information currently available and were liable to change. One unknown factor raised by Anderson related to how much of the reduced autumn sown crop will require to be resown after recent floods and frosts. Also much of the ­autumn crop of barley had gone into the ground late in very wet conditions and had not tillered well.

He said: “There are many thin crops of winter barley and there is an agronomic decision to be made that might lead to grubbing out and resowing with spring crop.”

Keith dismissed any thought that the maltsters might bring in more barley from abroad. He said: “They only do this if there is a risk of a shortage. You also have to remember haulage costs nowadays and if decision is whether you take the grain on your doorstep or bring it in by boat, which would you take?”

Anderson added the projected massive rise in barley grown south of the Border and the potential consequences on the Scottish market – as well as the reduction in beer drinking nationally – had to be considered.