Farm video explores barley supply line as brewers begin lockdown recovery battle
PUBLISHED: 11:45 18 June 2020 | UPDATED: 16:11 18 June 2020
A planned open day exploring Norfolk’s world-renowned malting barley provenance has been distilled into a video – highlighting how the “plant to pint” supply chain is plotting its recovery from lockdown.
An independent crop trial was established at Morley Farms near Wymondham, dedicated specifically to malting barley varieties which are a key ingredient for beer and whiskey industries which have been hit hard by the closure of pubs and restaurants.
As well as slashing demand for malt, the lockdown also cancelled plans for the crop trial’s open day, which aimed to give farmers impartial advice and insight from professionals across the supply chain including agronomists, fertiliser experts, seed breeders, grain merchants, maltsters and brewers.
The project is a collaboration between The Morley Agricultural Foundation and Norfolk grain merchants Adams and Howling, with involvement from across the supply chain including NIAB (National Institute of Agricultural Botany) which drilled the plots, and Syngenta, Parkers Seeds and H Banham which supplied seeds.
Matthew Adams, joint managing director of Adams and Howling, said he was determined not to waste the efforts of everyone involved in producing this site, so a short film has been made in place of the open day – and plans are already under way to re-start the trials again this autumn as the industry looks forward to the reopening of pubs and restaurants.
“This is a specific malting barley site,” he said. “We have found that many trials are more associated with feed barley and hybrids, with the poor old malting barley round the back of a hedge half a mile away.
“With the amount of people who grow malting barley in Norfolk, and the provenance of it, we wanted to give them independent advice from local specialists.”
READ MORE: Slump in lockdown beer demand leaves farmers grappling with a huge barley backlog
In the video, Philip Simons, an agronomist with Prime Agriculture, discusses the growth characteristics and disease control strategies for the trial varieties of five winter barleys and five spring barleys – although he says the predominantly dry weather had made it a low disease year.
And Bob King, commercial director at Crisp Malt based in Great Ryburgh near Fakenham, speaks about Norfolk’s continued potential to grow varieties like Flagon, the firm’s most widely used winter barley, and Maris Otter, the 50-year-old variety beloved by craft brewers around the world.
But he says it will take some time for the malting, brewing and distilling industry to recover from the economic shock of Covid-19.
“We have had a trying time in the malting industry since lockdown, and the pubs closing in particular, but there are signs now that the breweries are beginning to order malt again and we are told that pubs could open again from July 4, although it may be gardens only,” he says.
“We have got whiskey distilleries initially closed for health and safety reasons now back up and in production, so things are looking better. But it is going to take a while to get back to where maltsters are at full capacity, as well as breweries and distilleries.”
Mr Adams said although the driest May on record in East Anglia had left many areas of barley crops “stressed”, some will have recovered after the recent downpours.
“For some crops that were further forward, the rain was not in time, but we have had another dousing now which should help to improve the spring barley especially,” he said. “The winter barley will be an OK crop. The spring barley still has a chance of slightly higher nitrogen levels where the plants are trying to grow through after being stunted by the dry weather.”
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