Since our last update on 15th August the mainly fine dry weather throughout the UK has allowed harvest to progress virtually uninterrupted. Spring barley harvesting in England is now virtually complete whilst in Scotland there is probably another 2 weeks of harvesting to be done reflecting the delayed planting of much of the crop.
Spring Barley: England
As we expected, the spring crop on England is of much better quality than the winter crop, with yields around the long term average (2015 excepted). There is quite a lot of variation in quality within the crop, again reflecting the wide planting period and the differing soil types. In general the lowest nitrogen and largest grain size barley has come from the lightest soils, particularly in Eastern England, with West Norfolk producing some very good low nitrogen samples of Concerto and Odyssey. Other parts of East Anglia and the traditional malting barley area of Southern England have all performed well with nitrogen levels marginally higher than 2015 and grain size slightly smaller. Moving onto heavier land and in less traditional malting barley areas, particularly where growers have moved into spring barley production in an attempt to combat the impact of blackgrass, results have been more variable with higher nitrogen (to be expected) and some grain size issues. However with the increased planted area in England, there is still a potential exportable surplus of 300-400,000mt, which is important in the wider EU supply / demand calculation which indicates no overall EU surplus and possibly a small deficit.
Spring Barley: Scotland
Harvest started on the light soils of the Moray Coast and early areas further south in the last 10 days of August, however the bulk of the Scottish harvest is taking place at the moment with only the higher inland areas of the country still waiting to start. As in England the best results appear to be coming from the lighter soil traditional malting barley areas. In the north, where Crisp focus purchasing of Potstill barley for Portgordon maltings, there is a distinct difference in quality from west to east with the barley nitrogen rising and grain size falling as the harvest moves further into Aberdeenshire. Aberdeenshire is the largest cereal producing area and after a series of good harvests, appears to be producing below average results in both yield and quality compared to other parts of Scotland; this is significant in the overall Scotland supply / demand balance. With the area planted reduced due to the requirements of the ‘3 Crop Rule’, Scotland needs to produce at least ‘average’ yields and a high pass rate from the area sown to malting varieties in order to meet domestic demand; a below average Aberdeenshire crop will have a major impact on the overall supply.
Compared to 2015 we anticipate the final outcome will be a ‘Potstill’ barley crop slightly higher in nitrogen and lower in grain size. Concerto is by far the dominant variety and continues to perform well, with the small quantities of Odyssey also reported to be ‘usable’. There are a number of crops of Laureate being grown for IBD trials; on farm results are indicating significant yield advantage compared with Concerto and better grain size with similar nitrogen levels. Of the barley being grown for producing HDP malt for grain whisky production, harvest progress has been slow. Belgravia remains the mainstay variety with early results showing higher grain nitrogen than last year, but a significant reduction in grain size which will result in some crops being downgraded to feed. Crisp have several crops of Fairing being grown as a potential replacement for Belgravia, whilst a comparison of nitrogen results will have to await completion of intake, it is apparent that grain size is not an issue with the variety and reports from growers are encouraging.
With the EU supply / demand balance so finely poised, it is not a surprise that malting premiums are at a multi-year high, with only the low price of feed barley keeping actual malting barley prices at a ‘reasonable’ level. That said growers are in general reluctant sellers unless they need cash, instead trying to hold onto their barley to take advantage of the higher prices on offer outside the harvest period.
9th September 2016