Malt Barley Quality a Question as Prairie Harvest Drags On

Cool and wet harvest conditions across much of the Prairies are raising concerns over how much of this year’s barley crop will meet malt specifications.

“We’ll lose a lot of malting barley this year, because of the weather,” said Peter Watts, managing director of the Canadian Malting Barley Technical Centre.

Canadian farmers did seed a larger barley crop this year, and Statistics Canada’s August survey pegged production at 9.6 million tonnes. That would be well above 8.4 million tonnes a year earlier and the previous five-year average of 8.1 million tonnes. Watts said some estimates are still pointing to a 10-million tonne-plus crop.

“We’ll have a pretty big pool to choose from, but if the weather doesn’t smarten up it will compromise a lot of the quality,” Watts said. “Quality will be all over the map this year, and it will be a struggle for grain companies and malting companies to find enough good quality malting barley.”

Anecdotal reports so far are highly varied. Watts said that while there have been reports of good quality malting barley, he had also heard of more chitting than normal. Chitted barley, also called pre-germination, refers to grain that has prematurely started to sprout before being harvested. Chitted barley can still be made into malt shortly after harvest, but degrades quickly in storage. Staining will also be a problem due to the rain.

Canada’s domestic malting industry typically requires about 1 million tonnes of barley per year. Canada has also been exporting over 1 million tonnes of malt barley on an annual basis in recent years, which means the country needs at least 2 million to 2.5 million tonnes of malt barley. Watts said he remains confident that demand will be met, but noted that end users may have a harder time finding supplies.

“There’s no question that we’ll see feed prices ease off,” he said, noting that the price spread between feed and malt barley will likely widen in 2019-20.

Feed barley bids over the past winter were strong due to tight supplies, and even traded at a premium to malt in some cases. In 2019-20, producers with unpriced malt quality barley will be looking for prices to go up, Watts said.

From a protein standpoint, early indications are for slightly lower average protein barley compared to the past few years, which Watts said is a function of larger yields.

Source: DePutter Publishing Ltd.

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