Demand for malting barley ‘set to outstrip what Scotland can supply’

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Scotland may have reached “peak” malting barley this year, but expansion in the whisky market is likely to see the majority of quality grain supplies swallowed up by the maltsters.

Speaking at a briefing on the distilling market organised by crop breeder Limagrain, he said that virtually all land suitable for growing barley had been put into the crop this year following a poor autumn for wheat.

Yet, it had been estimated that with the distilling industry requiring the equivalent of 900,000 tonnes for pot still production and a further 100-110,000 tonnes for high DP maize and wheat distilling, the demand was there for all the quality barley that was likely to be produced.

But he also pointed out that, with demand for malt likely to continue to rise in line with whisky growth, Scotland’s malting capacity had been reached and around a further 150,000 tonnes of malt – equating to 200,000 tonnes of malting barley – was likely to need to be imported from either south of the Border or from the continent to meet demand in future years.

Although there had been problems in the past with varietal suitability for whisky distilling from continental barley, Limagarin marketing manager Lee Robinson said that although his company liked to think of itself as “Scotland’s breeder”, with a 50-plus per cent share of seed planting, the global nature of crop breeding meant successful varieties were now grown across much of the continent.

Highlighting this pan-
European trend, barley breeder Mark Glew said that two top contenders on the Scottish recommended list – the Limagrain varieties Odyssey and Overture– were also being taken up as lead varieties in many European countries, including France, Denmark and Poland as well as many of the former eastern bloc countries.

On a different tack, which looked at the robustness of variety performance, Limagrain breeder Ed Flatman and agronomy team leader at the SRUC, Dr Steve Hoad, said that in recent years differences in variety yields between harvests had highlighted the fact that there was a need for a new way of assessing varieties which took into account both consistency and robustness between seasons.

“With recent weather patterns, we have found that there can be a huge difference in the yields returned by a single variety over the different growing seasons experienced in different years – and especially with wheats, what was the top performer one year could be well down the list the next year,” said Dr Hoad.

“Farmers need a new way of looking at varieties and rather than basing their planting decisions on a few percentage points increase in yield they should be provided with some information as to how a variety is likely to perform over a range of seasons,” said Flatman.

He said that as breeders had several years of figures for any variety before it was put in for the recommended list and then on to the market, making these figures available to growers could give them a better idea of how robust the crop performance was likely to be between differing seasons.

“We could also take a closer look at unravelling what accounts for robustness – and what is below the soil in the form of the root structure could play an important role here as it plays a crucial part in the supply of nutrients to the growing plant” said Flatman.