Improved export interest in malt produced from UK spring barley could also bring a welcome benefit for UK winter malting barley, experts are hoping, as domestic end users seek it as an alternative against greater competition for the spring crop.
European factors and a hoped-for upturn in beer consumption could see prospects for UK winter malting barley looking up.
These are on top of other factors which could see an upturn in demand for malting barley next season, they suggest.
According to Adrian Dyter, commercial director of Greencore Malt, although winter malting barley is supplied to the domestic brewing market, not the export trade, our weaker currency has improved the situation with spring export malt recently. "It's had a beneficial effect on our competitiveness and made our malt more attractive to overseas buyers," Mr Dyter points out.
As a result, renewed energy is going into the development of export markets, he says. “That, in turn, could help with the demand for winter barley from UK-based brewers." But a good quality crop will still be important for securing markets, he adds.
Robert Hiles, global malting barley business manager for Syngenta Seeds, agrees that export interest in UK spring barley malt could benefit winter barley. A reduction in spring barley plantings in mainland Europe this season could encourage this situation, he notes.
“We hear that spring barley plantings are 10-12% down in Germany, 20% down in Denmark and 5% down in France this year,” says Mr Hiles. “These are all similar-sized markets to the UK, at 5-600,000 hectares.
“However it will be important that UK growers are in a strong position to capitalise on any upturn in demand for winter barley – whether it happens this year or next. Grain nitrogen levels will be crucial. So, in a competitive market scrutinise your HGCA Recommended List for varieties which combine low grain nitrogen levels, to help hit buyer specifications, with high yield, to help maximise income. Flagon already fits this bill, but there are also the new candidate HGCA Recommended List varieties of Purdey and Winsome coming through.”
Stuart Shand, retail and malting barley director for Gleadell Agriculture, agrees the winter malting barley market looks to be improving – more specifically for crops planted this autumn.
Although beer sales have been hit by the recession, with total sales down by 11%, and growers have been daunted by a lack of barley movement, he says current high malt stocks are expected to ease by the end of 2009, causing prices to pick up after January 2010.
"There's already a £10 premium for 2010 over 2009, rising to £15/t for October 2010," says Mr Shand. "Although there are very few contracts around at this stage, the signs are much more encouraging."
Of the 534,778t of winter barley purchased by maltsters in 2008, Mr Shand says some 47% 2008 was in Pearl, with Flagon accounting for 33% of the total and Cassata 8%.
Also newcomer Purdey looks very good, he says, having already attracted interest from maltsters, and appears suitable for Scotland as well as England, he adds.
Adrian Dyter of Greencore agrees that the market should be back to a more normal situation by 2010. “We hope the worst is over and we will not see any further reductions in demand," he comments, “in fact beer consumption is reported to have levelled out.”
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