Malting barley in short supply

A shortage of quality malting barley in Britain and Europe offers hard-pressed growers an opportunity to profit after years of depressed prices, said a leading Norfolk maltster.

A shortage of quality malting barley in Britain and Europe offers hard-pressed growers an opportunity to profit after years of depressed prices, said a leading Norfolk maltster.

For the first time in years, brewers and distillers are facing real shortages of quality malt, said Bob King, commercial director for Crisp Malting Group, of Great Ryburgh, near Fakenham.

He told members of Holt & District Farmers' Club that the malting industry was operating "against the background of the worst crop in Europe in living memory in terms of tonnes and quality. The whole of Europe is short of barley."

Mr King, who has been at Ryburgh for 18 years, said that the exceptional heat and weather in late July caused severe damage to the spring barley crop. "We've dealt with virtually all the spring barley that we were offered out of east or north-east Norfolk. We've malted a lot, some is already in breweries. This is the earliest we've ever malted and put new crop barley through the plant.


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"As malting barley growers, there is a very good future now," he told about 40 farmers at the Feathers, Holt. For the past half a dozen years, the big consumers of malt did not seem to be concerned about the availability of supply because it could be imported, often at a lower price.

Mr King said that a number of maltings had closed in the past few years as a result of the ruthless price competition across the whole of Europe. "The capacity is not there. And, for us to invest in more capacity, means we need to make money to do it. We'll make money if people grow barley and you won't grow barley unless you make money," he added.

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There has been a continuing decline in the area of winter and more especially spring-sown malting barley varieties in the past few years because farmers could not generate a reasonable return.

Mr King said that the Crisp Malting Group had launched an innovative partnership in June with grain merchants, H Banham and Adams & Howling, to offer a three-year supply deal. "We could see this supply issue coming even before this harvest. We set up a group with a deal with Norfolk growers - Norfolk barley for Norfolk Maltings.

"We're confident that there is a market to reward growers. I don't think it will fall off a cliff because the demand for malt in the world is going up," he added.

"We wanted farmers to commit to growing barley. We would get to a competitive price. What has happened this harvest is a kickstart.

"If we manage it for the forseeable future, malting barley will be there at prices that are competitive against all other crops. We are now seeing prices for next year's spring barley with at least £100 per tonne. We're offering through our group both fixed and minimum price contracts," he added.

"The industry has cut the number of malting plants. There is still a situation in two or three years' time when there might not be enough barley for even the reduced industry," said Mr King.

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