Spring barley plantings are expected to range from similar to last year to a reduction of around five per cent, predict seed suppliers.
Jonathan Arnold, grain buyer at Robin Appel, says: “There could be a drop in spring barley plantings – will it be five per cent? We don’t know yet.”
Last year’s drought and an open autumn combined to encourage autumn planting, says Mr Arnold. “Spring crops were hit hard in certain areas and late drilling and the Beast from the East worried a few people. There is perceived to be less risk with winter crops.”
Supported by some poor yields in several key European malting barley-growing countries, UK prices are the highest they have been for some years at £190-£200/tonne spot, says Mr Arnold. “The UK had quite a good crop given the dry weather. We will export 0.25 million tonnes of malting barley this season.”
While shippers are understandably keen to get malting barley exported before Brexit, Mr Arnold says he cannot see the trade stopping overnight. “In the last five years there’s always been some country that’s had a [crop] problem, caused by extreme weather; who would rule that out again?”
In terms of malting variety choices this spring, Mr Arnold suggests dual-purpose brewing and distilling varieties Laureate and Diablo offer good premium opportunities otherwise Propino and Planet are the mainstay with Propino likely to command a premium as there will be a lot of planet grown in mainland Europe.
“Spring cropping will be dictated by seed availability, control of blackgrass and how much oilseed rape has survived the onslaught by pigeons and flea beetles.”
For harvest 2019, malting barley premiums are currently around £20 over feed barley, says Mr Arnold.
Sean Lovegreen, director of sales at Nickerson, says he expects spring barley seed sales to be similar to last year. “At the moment we are ahead of where we were last year. Growers were worrying about supply. There is enough but not of the preferred varieties.”
Varieties such as Diablo have seen very strong demand north of the border, while Concerto and Laureate may be more available, he says.
Spring pulse seeds are likely to be problematical, says Mr Lovegreen. “The pulse yield was poor and quality poor. Derogations have been sought which is a fair indication seed is not out there.”