Malting premiums under threat from ‘skinning’

Producers are urged to take care while harvesting. Picture: Scott Barbour/Getty Images
Producers are urged to take care while harvesting. Picture: Scott Barbour/Getty Images
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With the spring barley harvest beginning to get under way across the country, growers have been urged to keep a close eye on their threshed grain samples to ensure they avoid the possibility of costly malting rejections for skinning and splitting.

While stating that it was still too early to say if the issue of skinned grains was going to be a major problem this harvest – as it had been in certain areas last year – Gavin Dick, the Agricultural & Horticultural Development Board’s (AHDB) cereals manager in Scotland, said that there had already been reports of the problem from early crops grown on light land.

The complaint, which sees part, or all, of the husk torn from the grain, can result in rejections and loss of malting premiums.

Dick said that while he was always loathe to advise anyone on how to set their combines, growers should keep close check on samples and thrash the crop as gently as possible if any signs of the problem became obvious.

“Farmers need to be aware that there might be a problem and take action to protect their premiums,” he said. “While the weather in the run up to harvest plays a major role in the condition, ensuring that the crop is combined – and handled – without being too harsh on the grain can help minimise any potential penalties.”

He said this meant keeping the drum speed as low as possible and the concave clearance as wide as was conducive with securing an acceptable sample. It also meant handling the crop with some degree of care once it reached the store as well as excessive movements in augers, elevators and chain conveyors could also contribute to damage.

“It would also be a sound idea to keep the harvested grain from different fields in separate lots rather than risking the rejection of a bulk batch.”

READ MORE: Scottish barley plantings drop, but UK figures rise

Dick said that most modern higher yielding varieties were more prone to the problem – and while Concerto had been singled out last year, this was mainly because it was so widely grown, accounting for over 70 per cent of the malting area.

He said that the AHDB had been considering including a rating for skinning in the recommended list and also indicated that breeders had been looking at including characteristics which were more resistant to the problem.

The SRUC’s Steve Hoad said that there had been considerable research into the issue since it had arisen as a major problem in 2012 – and that the weather conditions at grain fill and in the last few weeks before harvest played a major role in the condition – with extremes of wet and dry at these stages encouraging skinning at harvest.

He said that the quality of the “glue” which cemented the husk to the grain seemed to be the key issue and said that work was under way to identify molecular markers which would help identify varieties with the genes for more robust attachment.

Gold-plated greening is costly

Despite the likely changes in agricultural support which lie ahead due to the Brexit vote, Scottish arable farmers continue to operate at a commercial disadvantage under the current system due to the gold-plating of greening regulations, it was claimed this week.

NFU Scotland met the Scottish Government’s rural economy secretary Fergus Ewing this week to reinforce its repeated calls for the removal of a number of Scotland-only greening rules. During a visit to a Perthshire farm, the union urged Ewing to press ahead with proposed changes to greening on the expectation that existing arrangements for direct support through the CAP would remain in place at least until 2020.

The union’s cereal committee chairman, Ian Sands, said that additional rules on growing nitrogen fixing crops, the formula used to calculate ecological focus areas, lack of grazing on buffer strips and the management of fallow land were amongst the areas requiring review.

“The Brexit vote may change support arrangements in the future but, until we are officially out of Europe and no longer benefitting from the CAP, we must continue to operate as before – and that means seeking significant changes to our greening requirements to remove the gold-plating introduced at a Scottish level,” said Sands.

He said that the bureaucratic “nonsense” had even been added to this year by the introduction of a requirement for nutrient management plans to be drawn up for permanent grasslands.

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