Spring barley crop progress is very variable across the country, however, no-one is disagreeing that total production will be up significantly and that this will be combined with tricky marketing conditions.
AHDB’s February Early Bird Survey found a large swing towards spring barley with the area forecast up 47 per cent on 2019. Particularly large rises have been forecast in the East Midlands (149 per cent) and Yorkshire and the Humber (139 per cent), the areas most hit by the wet autumn/winter weather. Overall UK barley tonnage is estimated to be more than 8.3 million tonnes for harvest 2020.
Ironically, Yorkshire and the Humber is now one of the areas suffering from very dry weather. Independent agronomist Julian Thirsk, covers Yorkshire, Durham and Northumberland. He says: “Some crops have not even germinated. Those that are through at the 3-4 leaf stage have just stopped and aren’t doing anything at the moment.
“If we get rain we will have to consider what we will do. Some crops will be a write off. We desperately need rain. We have only had 4-15mm in the last 3-4 weeks.”
It is likely much a lot of malting barley will end up on the feed market, he adds.
Steve Cook, NIAB TAG regional agronomist – South, says the area he covers – Hampshire, Wiltshire, Surrey and Berkshire - has had above average rainfall for April. “We have had a reasonable dose of rain and crops are looking well with no disease so we are holding spring barley T1 fungicides back a little and planning a one stage rather than two stage spray programme.”
Also because drilling was delayed from February/March to April in the region, nitrogen fertiliser application rates have been reduced from 150kg/ha to 125kg/ha in anticipation of slightly lower yield potential, says Mr Cook.
These southern counties usually export significant amounts of malting barley to the continent. However, cancellation of large sporting events where beer is consumed due to coronavirus, and Brexit trade deal uncertainty mean few are looking at being able to sell into the malting barley market, he says.
With 46mm of rain in April, spring barley crops in the West are looking okay, according to Antony Wade, an independent agronomist covering Herefordshire, Shropshire, and the Welsh Marches. They are likely to be destined for feed. Winter barley, on the other hand, is patchy and some could be whole-cropped, he adds.
Openfield head of malting barley exports Elved Phillips says China’s decision to place hefty import tariffs on Australian barley could lend support to European feed markets. “French barley has gone up €5/t in the last week and it will go into China. There will be a re-routing of supply with Australian barley going into Saudi Arabia. UK barley will go into North Africa but there will be competition from Spain, which has a massive crop and has had a lot of rain.”
Malting barley demand is down 50 per cent due to Covid-19 lockdown restrictions, he says, with the craft beers market being hit particularly hard, down 75 per cent.