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Mar 9

Need for seed: Bad harvest boosts demand and curtails planting of malt barley for 2015

Posted on Mar 9 By: Cullen Bird 

After years of decline, barley acreage is finally expected to increase next year in response to demand from maltsters.

The demand is driven in part by a short supply of quality malt this year. Central and southern Alberta were beset by snowstorms and heavy rains at harvest last fall, causing poor seed germination rates.

“The North American supply is pretty much zero right now,” said Cameron Goff, chair of the Saskatchewan Barley Development Commission.

Usually, malting companies keep some malting barley in reserve in case early-year predictions of their needs fall short, Goff said.

“My understanding—and this is from talking to people in the industry—is that, actually, the Canadian malting companies had to bring malt over from Europe to make sure they had enough good barley to make their sales commitments,” Goff said.

The scarcity of supply also extends to malt barley seed, especially for the varieties most desirable to brewers.

“A lot of the crop that came off last year in different parts of Alberta and Montana just didn’t meet seed quality. So there are a lot of folks out there looking for seed,” said Kelly Barany, co-owner of Chin Ridge Seeds in Taber, AB.

The shortage is mostly confined to AC Metcalfe and CDC Copeland. Unfortunately, those are the two varieties most sought-after by maltsters.

“There may be 10 varieties that are acceptable for malt, but there are really only three that you can grow on speculation,” Goff said. Metcalfe and Copeland are the two with the biggest market share, with Bentley coming in a distant third, he added.

Those who don’t already have seed lined up this year for Metcalfe and Copeland might be out of luck, Barany said.

Farmers who are late to the seed-buying party might have to settle for varieties like Bentley or Newdale—varieties that have better yield and disease resistance but less popularity with brewers, Goff said.

“This year, you may have to phone more seed growers just to find what you’re looking for,” said Brian Otto, Barley Council of Canada chair.

Despite the difficulties in finding seed to plant, it’s a good-news story for the barley industry, Goff said. “There will be an increase. It will be a welcome change from a steady progression in decreasing acres.

“It will bring barley back into focus for a lot of farmers who have sort of dropped it off of their rotation.”

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