With malting barley variety Concerto currently accounting for almost 80% of the area of spring barley in Scotland, there is an undoubted need for another mainstream variety.

Seed company, Syngenta, believes it has just such a candidate with its new variety, Laureate and all the signs are that it is right to be confident .

The company’s UK seed sales manager, Sam Brooke, revealed that there will be 14,000 tonnes of C2 graded certified seed available for commercial planting this spring. “That would account for a substantial 6% of the UK market and there will be good areas grown in Scotland, including in Aberdeenshire and around Inverness,” said Ms Brooke.

As always with a new malting variety there is some risk that it might not take off, but Syngenta has high hopes that Laureate will move from the Provisional Approval 1 stage to full Institute of Brewing and Distilling approval by June of this year.

“We are hoping it will skip the Approval 2 stage and go straight to full approval in one go. Interest is high and good tonnages are being malted now, and should be with end users in February,” said Ms Brooke.

She was careful, however, to call Laureate a 'partner' variety for Concerto, adding: “Concerto has been fantastic for distilling quality but it has been dangerous to have such reliance on one variety. There is a need to spread the risk.”

Laureate seems to have the credentials to reach the top. Its treated yield at 104 on the North AHDB Recommened List equals RGT Planet, which is a brewing only variety and is a good 10 points ahead of Concerto, which has slipped to a score of 94%.

Agronomically, Laureate performs well with good disease resistance across the board. It produced the highest untreated yield in the recommended list for 2015 and 2016.

Although straw height is relatively short, there is a caution that plant growth regulators will be needed especially after high nitrogen crops, or following dung or slurry applications.

Growers will be slightly disappointed to see that maturity is about the same as Concerto. “It might be a day earlier than Concerto at the most, but there is a trade- off between yield and maturity. We could, and do, produce earlier varieties, but they lose out on yield. Specific weight is ok, but not right amongst the best,” said Ms Brooke.

There is good news, however, on skinning, with Syngenta claiming levels of about 50% less than in Concerto. The grain shape is slightly different and smaller in Laureate and this seems to provide better adhesion of the husk to the grain.

Spirit yield is claimed to be high but no better than Concerto. In common with all new UK varieties, Laureate is a non-GN producer, ie it does not produce possible carcinogens.

It's a tough market to crack and mainstream varieties do not come along very often – Optic carried the crown for nearly 20 years and Concerto has taken an even bigger slice of the market since 2009.