AC Metcalfe still king in malt circles
AC Metcalfe isn’t the only malting barley variety available to Alberta growers, but it is certainly one of the most favoured, say maltsters and grain marketers. Some other varieties may have a fit in some niche markets, but regardless of how good a variety sounds from an agronomic standpoint, the primary rule is to grow what the customer wants.
Malting companies and brewers are always interested in what’s new in the barley breeding pipeline, but ultimately it is the varieties that consistently produce the quality and taste preferred in well-branded beverages that are in the greatest demand.
“AC Metcalfe is still our leading variety,” says Kevin Sich, grain procurement manager with Rahr Malting, based in the Central Alberta community of Alix. “We have some market for CDC Copeland as well, but Metcalfe still seems to be the universalfavourite—the go anywhere barley variety.”
Sich says it is important that farmers looking to produce and market malting quality barley grow the varieties malting and grain companies want. Malting companies are really the middle-men in the malting barley business—it is the brewers who ultimately call the shots on what varieties to grow.
“The brewers have specific products and they want a malt that will consistently produce a beer that consumers recognize by colour and taste,” says Sich.
“It has to be consistent. It is not even a matter of bringing them something we think is better. If it is going to affect the colour or taste of a particular brand, they aren’t interested because ultimately it could affect consumer preference for their product.”
While brewers have their favourites, that doesn’t mean malt barley is a static business, says Sich.
“There is always something going on,” he says. “We and brewers are always interested in testing new varieties, but it is a slow process. It may take three to five years of testing a variety to determine if it has fit. In the initial test stages in micro malting and brewing, we may only need 50 pounds of grain. If that proves favourable, the next year they will test a larger batch, but it can be years before there is a wide scale demand for a new variety.”
For example, AC Metcalfe, a two-row malt barley, was registered 14 years ago in 1997. It eventually made its way into the Canadian market, replacing the longstanding Harrington, which was developed at the University of Saskatchewan in 1981. Harrington was an excellent malting barley variety, but it just didn’t hold up as plant breeders produced higher yielding varieties with improved disease resistance.
Sich says he understands the appeal of new malting barley varieties. Farmers are interested in varieties with higher yield and improved agronomic packages—that’s always a draw. But the bottom line is to produce what the market wants.
At Airdrie’s Central Ag Marketing Ltd., long-time grain marketing specialist Rod Green says AC Metcalfe is still the leading favourite among his grain buyers. CDC Copeland is gaining a bit more demand, and CDC Meredith, registered in 2009, is showing promise.
“CDC Meredith is just a great variety,” says Green. “If the market was there, we could probably switch half of the production to Meredith overnight. It has good malting quality and it yields 10 to 15 per cent higher than Metcalfe. Farmers want to grow it, but I tell them they have to wait for the market.”
And in Southern Alberta, Dave Seifridt, marketing specialist with Market Master, has only three words for producers wondering what malt barley variety to grow:
“‘Metcalfe, Metcalfe, Metcalfe,’ is what I tell farmers,” says Seidfridt. “There are other good varieties available, but Metcalfe appears to be what the industry wants. It is important for growers to talk to a buyer about their specific needs, but for now Metcalfe is the standby variety for anyone wanting to sell malt barley.”
Malt barley production tips
By Lee Hart
Farmers aiming to produce barley that meets standards for malting quality need to follow basic, good agronomic practices, says a malting company grain buyer.
According to Kevin Sich, grain procurement manager with Rahr Malting, proper production begins with good quality, high germinating, certified seed.
“Selecting the proper variety is perhaps the first thing, using good quality seed, and soil testing to get a good handle on fertility requirements,” says Sich.
He also has three production tips that can impact barley quality.
- Seed early: While usually grains are left to later in the seeding season after canola and peas, for example, Sich recommends seeding at least a portion of the malt barley crop early. “As a good rule of thumb, any barley harvested in August usually makes malt quality,” he says. Seeds are plump, and usually a crop seeded early flowers before being damaged by the high temperatures in July and is harvested before some of the early frosts.
- keep the seeding rate up: While an old guideline was to seed barley at one to one-and-a-half bushels of seed per acre (about 60 pounds per acre), the more recent recommendation is to aim for a plant stand density of 24 plants per square foot. Depending on the weight of seed, it works out to roughly two to 2.5 bushels per acre (about 100 to 120 pounds of seed per acre). At the higher seeding rate, plants tiller less, and it is seed produced on the secondary heads that usually has lower quality.
- use proper fertility: There isn’t a single rate that applies to every farm, but 60 pounds of nitrogen per acre is a good starting point. The crop needs sufficient nitrogen to achieve optimum yield, but it shouldn’t be too high of fertility, which can affect protein levels. Find a proper fertility balance for your farm.
By following good agronomic practices, farmers can hopefully harvest a barley crop with the following malting barley characteristics:
- a pure, clean stand
- high per cent germination (95 per cent or better)
- fully mature and free from disease
- free from frost damage
- not weathered or deeply stained
- less than five per cent peeled or broken kernels
- free from heat damage
- not artificially dried
- no desiccants
- free of insects and disease
- plump kernels of uniform size
- low protein content ranging between 10.5 to 13 per cent dry basis