Roller-coaster for barley prices, says Norfolk maltster

Malting barley prices halved and then doubled as prices have been on a roller-coaster in the past two years, said a leading Norfolk maltster.

But surprisingly the average price in each of the last two years was just �2 a tonne different, Bob King, commercial director of Crisp Malting Group told members of Holt & District Farmers' Club.

He also expected to be buying a record tonnage of Norfolk barley from next year's harvest as a result of further group by specialist maltsters, which is based at Great Ryburgh, near Fakenham.

'For the 2011 crop if we can sell the malt we hope that we'll sell, then our purchases for Great Ryburgh and Ditchingham will be our biggest ever purchases of barley,' said Mr King.

After prizes were presented in the club's annual malting barley competition, he praised the quality of the 65 samples – just three short of last year's record.

Mr King was pleased too that the spring barley winner was Concerto from Fowell Brothers, of Itteringham.

'We've got out on a bit of a limb with the variety,' he added.

Most Read

In his review of the malting year, he told 48 members: 'Last year we started with very high prices as winter barley was �180 tonne on the back of the previous year. The market went all the way down to trading at �90 tonne by June last year. This year, we've got the reverse.

'There was a lot of barley sold ahead (of the 2010 harvest) at �90 to �100 tonne; there will be barley sold at the end of the year which might make �180 tonne.'

'By the time we've finished this year's purchases, our average price of barley for the 2009 crop and average for the 2010 crop will be within �2 of each other or about �150 tonne.'

'I was really surprised by the span in both years – we've seen barley double in price and halve in price.

'We've seen wheat rise from 105 to �170 and then fall back a bit and malting barley from �95 to �175. It is the exact opposite of what happened last year. We've had a six per cent devaluation which has helped prices too.'

While 2009 was a vintage, the latest harvest was difficult for some.

'Norfolk has about five different spring crops this year,' he said.

In west Norfolk around Gayton, it was ready in July, while barley from Yarmouth/ Lowestoft, which was one of the driest in the country, really struggled. 'We had some nice barley from the mid-Norfolk, and then there was the barley caught by the rains.

'We've had a very difficult spring barley crop to deal with, nitrogens were much higher. We've seen our first 2pc nitrogen for four or five years in some crops.'

Mr King said that more Flagon winter barley had been drilled while Maris Otter still held its place.

With the springs, he was pleased by the performance of Concerto, which had done very well in a testing year but Tipple, market leader with 70 to 80pc, would remain dominant.

He reflected on the problems faced by farmers in the north of Scotland.

'Their harvest started near our maltings on August 18 and we took in barley over the weekend harvested on October 9. The barley has lasted but people have been sitting there for a month unable to do anything,' he said.

As a result, the spring acreage would be higher in Scotland because farmers had not been to plant winter crops, he added. Mr King suggested that with most of the malting barley sold, it had probably found a ceiling at �165 to �170 tonne. But if feed barley, the market driver picked up, then prices might rise to �185 or �190 if Saudi Arabia started buying and intervention stocks were not released quickly enough.

He said that brewing demand was down and had not recovered from last year.

'For our business, we supply to Scotland from East Anglia as well, there're hope for us. We as business are probably going to run about 95pc capacity while the industry as a whole might run at 85pc.

'If we turn to the 2011 crop, winter barley are going to be down. We know oilseed rape and wheat is up,' said Mr King, who expected a 10pc fall in the spring barley area except in Norfolk, which didn't tend to follow the whole country.

For spring barley, he was backing Concerto as the firm's preferred variety.