Scottish malting barley growers have been warned to brace themselves for serious competition from England this harvest, with only quality setting them apart in a flooded market.
Sean Sparling, the chairman of the Association of Independent Crop Consultants, told a packed conference of Scottish Agronomy members the ramifications of incessant rainfall and flooded fields in England meant more and more growers were turning to spring barley, and some of that would inevitably turn out to be of malting quality.
“Everyone I speak to who doesn’t have their winter wheat in the ground is saying we’ll put it all into spring barley,” he told the meeting in Perth.
“People need to get the land dried out first, but they are going to have to grow something, they need some income, and if the crop that will go in the ground is spring barley, that’s what they’ll grow.
“There’s going to be a lot, and by accident some of that will go for malting. That’s going to flood the market, that’s what worries me. It’s going to affect your market in Scotland.
“There will be an impact on prices, so this year growing for quality is absolutely crucial. We won’t be short of quantity.”
Mr Sparling’s agronomy business looks after 10,000ha, mainly in Lincolnshire, and he predicted his usual spring barley acreage of 2,600ha would be up by 50% this year. He added there would also be people who have never grown the crop before.
However, he predicted it would be another month before any farmers on the ground he advises on would be able to turn a wheel.
“There was panic drilling of late winter wheat varieties in late January, but that had now stopped,” he said.
“Lincolnshire is currently like The Somme.”
Mr Sparling anticipated the winter wheat acreage would be at least 30% back on an average year.
He said: “I should have 6,000ha in ground at the moment, but I only have 1,600ha of winter wheat in, only 16ha of spring barley and no winter oats, rye or triticale at all.
“We will need four or five weeks of hot, dry, sunny, windy conditions to get any peas, beans, sugar beet or potatoes in the ground.”
Turning to the challenges facing the industry, Mr Sparling said agriculture needs to be seen as a solution to the climate change issue, not the problem, and insisted Scotland’s marginal land areas could reap benefits from across the UK.
“You have a huge opportunity in Scotland to hold the UK Government to ransom as you are the ones who can sequester the most carbon and store it because of your landscape and how you do the job,” he said.
“Rather than being net zero, you’ll be able to sell the extra capacity. It’s a massive opportunity to make some serious money out of this country.”