Barley ‘could struggle to find a home’

So FAR so good with the sun shining on the 2013 cereal harvest but Scottish barley growers still face the problem of finding a home for the vastly increased tonnage of the crop grown in Britain.

Bruce Ferguson, Scottish manager at Openfield, said that, on samples he had seen so far, the quality had been good with low levels of screenings – apart from some coming off light land – and very little evidence of skinning.

Speaking in mid week, he said “However, I reckon that only about 15 per cent of the Scottish barley crop has been cut. Many growers have not started yet and there is a long way to go. We need another two or three weeks of good weather.”

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The only aspect of grain quality that concerned him was nitrogen levels, which are critical to the malting industry. On early samples, he said they were trending above levels from the 2012 and 2011 crops, both of which were unusually low, but he pointed out that nitrogen levels tend to rise on later-harvested crops and this might become a problem.

However, his main concern was not the quality of spring barley but the overall quantity. With a bigger acreage being sown this spring on the back of lower autumn planting of wheat, there is a much larger than normal tonnage of barley looking for a home.

“The underlying issue for spring barley is the size of the crop,” he said. “The market estimates reckon there are some 900,000 to 950,000 hectares and that is putting pressure on the market.”

Ferguson said there was currently no value being put on the table for spot barley but that was not unusual as the maltsters like to see their own contracts under way before entering the market.

Out in the fields, Doug Niven, from Duns, confirmed that the spring barley that had been cut had been good quality and importantly needed little or no drying; a considerable bonus on last year when fuel costs ate into cereal returns.

He confirmed that many barley growers in the Borders still had to get under way, as did Andrew Moir from his base at Laurencekirk.

Moir, the chairman of the combinable crops committee of NFU Scotland, said one of the frustrations of this year’s harvest so far had been having all the good weather but not able to do much because the crops were not ready. He combined that concern with a worry that there would now be a clash over several crops ripening together, creating a massive work load.

He had been able to “nibble” away at his oilseed rape crop and of the crop taken he said the yield had been reasonable.

Looking optimistically to the 2014 harvest both Niven and Moir confirmed their oilseed rape sowings had gone into the ground in ideal condition.