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Winter barley
The heavy rainfall over the past month has had a dramatic impact on the winter malting barley crop. At the end of May, after a long dry period, rain finally arrived and most pundits were predicting that the crop would now be OK but that we should expect higher grain nitrogens than normal and at best average yields. Harvest was looking to be 10-14 days earlier than normal.  At the start of July we face a completely different scenario; harvest dates have gone back to those of a normal season and there are widespread quality fears for a number of reasons.

Many winter barley crops in East Anglia and all areas north have areas of lodging. There is widespread ‘secondary growth’ where the high levels of rainfall have encouraged plants to produce additional tillers, in many fields there are two distinct crops, the main crop ready to harvest if it could get 4-5 days of sunshine and a secondary crop that is completely green. Small areas of secondary growth in previous seasons have not caused problems as the quantity of grain as a percentage of any particular field was very low and the tillers / grain was very immature compared to the bulk, harvesting usually dealt with the problem as the immature small grains were either blownout of the back of the combine or shriveled in the grain dryers. This year as much as a third of some crops could be secondary growth and it is more vigorous than in the past with the result that the resultant grains are less immature and also larger. Growers are faced with a quandary about when to harvest their crops, go when the bulk of the crop is ready and end up harvesting a large proportion of green corns or wait until this green corn matures and risk losing the ‘over fit’ bulk of the crop to the weather ( further lodging, pre-germination etc.). Many growers have been seeking advice from the malting industry about using glyphosate based products to desiccate their barley in attempt to bring the whole crop to ripeness at the same time.

Whilst it appears winter barley crops in the south of England have fared better over the past month,  the actual area of winter malting barley south of the M4 is quite small compared to East Anglia, Lincolnshire and Yorkshire, consequently the overall weather impact on the supply of good quality winter malting barley will be quite severe. Whilst weaker straw varieties such as Maris Otter, Fanfare and Flagon have been most prone to lodging, several fields of Pearl are also flat.

Spring Barley
If the wet weather of the past month has severely reduced the prospects for the winter malting barley crop, it has if anything improved the prospects for the majority of the spring malting barley crop. At the end of May many later drilled spring barley crops had hardly developed at all and it was thought that the arrival of rain would turn out to be too late. At the start of July we can see in East Anglia and Southern England some potentially very good spring crops particularly on well draining chalk soils.

The majority of spring barley crops today look very promising, with only a small number of reports of lodging. If the rain were to stop now (unfortunately unlikely for another 10 days) and the sun to shine to allow grain filling , then the prospects are that the shortfall in winter malting barley could be made up by the better than anticipated spring crop. There is even the possibility that the high grain nitrogens forecast at the end of May after the drought may perhaps not manifest due to the additional growth in the spring crop and the effect of rainwater leaching on the soil. A period of dry, sunny, warm (not hot!) weather is now needed to secure the spring crop, if we do not get it then the overall prognosis for the total English malting barley crop is poor.


The spring barley crop in Scotland continues to look promising. All areas have had sufficient rainfall to see crops through to harvest and now need sunshine for grain fill. Predictions of both yield and quality vary from area to area and from grower to grower, with a consensus that yields are unlikely to be better than average and that grain nitrogen levels may be better than previously predicted, grain size could be disappointing if sunshine levels do not rise significantly. A more detailed review of Scottish prospects will be made in a couple of weeks.


The wet weather affecting the UK has also affected other malting barley growing area in NW Europe, whist producing areas further east and south has suffered droughts and very high temperatures. The result is a large degree of concern about the total supply of malting barley within the EU and also its potential quality. With a background of very low stocks of Crop 2006 malting barley combined with a world wide surge in all grain prices to 10-12 year record highs, prices have soared in the past 2 months from a value for spring barley of around €180 FOB EU ports to perhaps €240 FOB today. Very little trade has taken place as the market has moved upwards and it will not be until harvest is in full swing that we can establish actual values for the crop. On farm prices in England are indicated anywhere from £110 to £140 depending on variety, specification, location – but there are no sellers! Theses new price levels (not seen since the mid ‘90s) are following through into Crop 2008 with prices only €10-20 lower.

Bob King
Gt. Ryburgh
4th July 2007

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