Craft brewing boom keeps specialist Norfolk barley in demand

Matthew Adams from grain merchant Adams and Howling with Andrew Murdo, estate manager for Wroxham Ho

Matthew Adams from grain merchant Adams and Howling with Andrew Murdo, estate manager for Wroxham Home Farms, inspecting a field of 2019 Maris Otter malting barley. Picture: Chris Borrett - Credit: Chris Borrett

Specialist malting barley varieties are proving their worth in the 2019 East Anglian harvest, with growers and merchants reporting some good yields and strong premiums.

Norfolk grain merchant Adams and Howling said the craft ale market is fuelling increasing demand for traditional varieties such as Maris Otter and Flagon.

With the winter barley harvest in Norfolk and Suffolk around 90pc complete, the firm's joint managing director Matthew Adams said while there had been some quality issues after the dry conditions earlier in the season, maltsters had been prepared to adjust their specifications for the most sought-after traditional varieties.

"A demanding market for a crop is always an asset for a grower," he said. "We have certainly found that this year when some of the crops have had quality issues and the maltsters have adjusted their tolerances to make sure they can be used, because there is such strong demand for these niche products.

"These are varieties that people know will carry a yield penalty in comparison to the feed varieties, but with Flagon being over 20 years old and Maris Otter being over 50, there is a lot of experience associated with these varieties and the maltsters appreciate that provenance in years where quality becomes an issue.

"Many new conventional and hybrid feed varieties are becoming very expensive to grow and then sometimes produce a low hectolitre result also.

"Growing for specific malting markets which appreciate and support a strong supply chain is an important asset to have for everybody. Niche markets are the right markets to grow for."

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Andrew Murdo, farm manager on the Wroxham Home Farms estate said it was not always the newest high-yielding feed variety which achieves the best return.

"Each year the growing conditions are different which effects newer varieties more, but we have found that both Maris Otter and Flagon seem to be able to produce a malting quality sample and with an increased premium for both over standard malting varieties, the profit per hectare is very good."

North Norfolk grower Chris Payne from Mundesley added: "The Maris Otter consistently performs well every year with our yields averaging over 7t/ha (tonnes per hectare) in the past three years. When you then add a premium of 40pc on top of standard winter barley prices it is a variety we will continue to grow. Our 2019 results so far are good with 1.52 nitrogen levels and screenings well within tolerance."

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