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New malt varieties challenge market leaders

Eight recent additions to the Scottish spring barley Recommended List (RL) have extended the range of choice for growers. But how many of these will establish a place in the market? Abby Kellett reports.

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Of the eight new spring barley varieties aimed at the Scottish malt market, only two or three are expected to gain substantial market share according to Steve Hoad of SRUC.


This comes as the performance of market leaders Concerto and Belgravia is wavering in comparison to some of the new barley varieties entering the mix.


Speaking at an AHDB winter agronomy meeting in Lauder, Scottish Borders, Dr Hoad said: “Concerto is a well-established variety. It has been a dominant variety on the RL for a long time now because of its good quality as a malting variety. But it is relatively low yielding and has some weaknesses, such as moderate straw strength and susceptibility to rhynchosporium, compared with some of the newer varieties.”


See also: Will there be another surge in spring cropping?


Of the newest malt distilling varieties, he said Laureate and Opera have shown the most promise, with both yielding higher than Concerto and showing good agronomic characteristics.


“Now in year two of its Institute of Brewing and Distilling approval, Laureate is coming through tests looking good, particularly with regards to extract and spirit yields, but it also has an outstanding overall yield, averaging 12 per cent more than Concerto.


“It has good agronomic features and overall package so I think there will be some growing interest in this variety.”


Having only been on the RL for only one year, Opera is the newest variety on the list and is undergoing tests for brewing and distilling.

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According to Dr Hoad, it too has a good balance of yield and quality. “It boasts an impressive yield, 12 per cent more than Concerto and some good brackling resistance.


“Quality wise, it seems strong, so I think the malting and distilling sectors will be looking at this as a longer term investment over rival varieties Octavia and Sienna.


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Dr Hoad expects Laureate and Opera to occupy the greatest market share, although he also highlighted the benefits associated with competing varieties on the RL.


“Sienna has proved about 9 per cent higher yielding than Concerto, with some improved agronomic features and high specific weights which we believe might have some benefit in terms of processing.

Mr Hoad

“Sassy was deferred last year because of uncertainty as to which sector it would be suited to. It has got provisional approval for brewing and distilling and if it does make it, it is likely to be for distilling rather than brewing and this is where the breeder will focus,” he said.


Shifting focus to the grain distilling sector, there are two contrasting varieties, Olympus and Fairing, which have the potential to replace Belgravia as the ‘dominant variety,’ said Dr Hoad.


“On the Scottish list, Belgravia is now rated as ‘outclassed’ on yield and is going to be reviewed by the Institute of Brewing and Distilling this year, although it has got full approval at the moment.


“We have always liked Belgravia because of its good agronomic features, but we are looking for something with the same level of agronomy but an improved yield,” he said.


Still in provisional year three, Olympus was identified as an unusually high yielding distilling variety which requires careful management.


“Olympus is high yielding for a grain distilling variety. But this means it has a tendency to dilute the grain nitrogen so careful nitrogen management is required to meet specifications. But if you can get the grain nitrogen up, it does offer a good package in the sector.”


As the earliest maturing variety on the list, new RL variety Fairing offers an entirely different set of characteristics.


“Unlike Olympus, Fairing’s yield is modest, averaging only 5 per cent more than Belgravia, but it has a much more reliable grain nitrogen and enzyme level.


“Agronomically it looks strong, with low susceptibility to rhynchosporium and ramularia. It is also the earliest maturing variety on the list with a score of minus two, which will benefit some growers,” said Dr Hoad.

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