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European buyers are showing increased interest in UK malting barley, say grain traders – with export potential looking good ahead of an expected increase... Traders report rising demand for UK spring malting barley

European buyers are showing increased interest in UK malting barley, say grain traders – with export potential looking good ahead of an expected increase in spring plantings.

A surge in planting is forecast after the wet autumn halted winter wheat drillings, export potential could be particularly handy this season, says Tracy Creasy, of Syngenta, the seed breeder behind spring malting variety Laureate.

Three years ago Laureate wasn’t a dominant variety for export. But the variety has since won approval in two major European malting barley systems: the Danish Preferred System and the Comité Bière Malt Orge (CBMO) in France.

“European interest in Laureate has blossomed,” says Mrs Creasy.

“Buyers are asking for it after it gained these latter two approvals in 2018. If demand continues, it gives UK Laureate growers the potential of four end markets – UK malt distilling, UK brewing, feed, and potentially export to Europe.”

Market potential

Most Laureate in Europe is currently used for brewing. But interest is growing in whisky production, with France one of the world’s biggest whisky consumers.

Jonathan Arnold, trading director for grain traders Robin Appel, says European approval has opened up more potential for UK Laureate growers. The variety has become more requested, he says.

Exports have been helped because more Laureate is grown in the UK. This means there is a bigger pool to choose from, says Mr Arnold. “Farmers who grow it have a foot in both camps – brewing and distilling.

“The UK generally exports about 250,000 tonnes of malting barley annually, maybe up to 400,000 tonnes in a good year. This compares with total UK malting barley purchases of about 1.9 million tonnes.”

Port access

ADM Agriculture feed and malting barley trader Chris Colley suggests export offers potential opportunities for growers in the south of England in particular, because of easier access to ports.

The export market is increasingly leaning towards Laureate, says Mr Colley. Exports of malting barley are also tariff-free, he adds, and ADM has organised boats of Laureate to Europe this winter.

“Laureate has been marketed for export for some time but is starting to win favour with some buyers,” says Mr Colley.

“We have customers who have been asking for Laureate specifically over other varieties. The export market is supply and demand driven. Laureate is still the leading spring barley variety grown on-farm in the UK, so when trading it for export it’s readily available.”

‘Elevated premiums’ for malting barley

Malting barley premiums are expected to remain strong after reaching record highs during the first few months of the season .

UK spot ex-farm premium malting barley was at a £78.40/t premium to feed barley in the first week of January – the widest recorded price gap so far this season, according to the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board.

Looking at the supply and demand outlook of malting barley for the 2023/24 season, it can be expected that premiums will remain strong in at least the short to midterm, says AHDB analyst Olivia Bonser.

Barley production this season was down 5% on the year and the AHDB Cereal Quality Survey showed lower specific weights and screening levels compared to the previous season, she explains.

“Due to the poorer quality of the domestic crop, in AHDB’s latest supply and demand estimates, imports are expected to be above the five-year average at 87,000t. However, total availability is still expected to be down slightly.”