INCREASED spring barley for malting is required in Scotland, to meet the growing worldwide demand for whisky and craft beers in the UK.

With whisky sales up 1.6% in volume and 8.9% in value to a record breaking £4.36bn last year in Scotland, and no surplus stores of malt from previous years, Bob King, commercial director of the Crisp Malting Group, told delegates attending the Scottish Agronomy Conference in Perth, the likelihood is more malt would have to be imported this year.

“We have exhausted all the surpluses of 2012, 2013 and 2014, which combined with the reduced acreages in 2015, 2016 and 2017, means we need a good harvest for quality and quantity to meet demand.”

While this year’s spring barley harvest is estimated to be up 12% at 274,000ha, due to the wet autumn of 2017, he said another bad harvest would compromise grain quality and quantity meaning more would have to be imported.

And, with few farmers growing high diastatic power (DP) or high nitrogen barley varieties for grain malt in Scotland, Mr King added that up to 33,000m tonnes would again have to be imported from Sweden.

Crisp Malting which is the largest independent maltster in Britain for turnover, producing 432,000tonnes of malt, of which 255,000tonnes is produced in the UK, requires malt for both markets and is keen to lock into long-term contracts.

“If the UKacreage stays down at the 230,000-240,000ha mark, we will be back to imports from the continent. We need to know growers intentions for 2019 and beyond - there are already lot of distilling companies tying themselves into long-term commitments for imported malted barley,” he said.

“Scotland used to supply 110,000t of HDP for grain distilling up until six or seven years ago and a lot of work is needed if we are to get that back,” he said admitting the high yielding, high nitrogen varieties are not available. He is nevertheless hopeful for the new varieties LG Diablo and LG Tomahawk which are the new potentials for brewing and distilling.

Dr Bill Thomas, head of cell and molecular sciences at the James Hutton Institute in Dundee, also highlighted the need to grow more barley to meet the increasing demand for whisky. However, he pointed out the need to breed better varieties and the possibility of introgressing spring barley quality into winter variety which would help to increase yields and quality.

He also encouraged growers to get behind the International Barley Hub, which has already won £1.5m of research funding.

“Demand for malting barley for distilling is increasing and not being met by the Scottish crop. We need to produce more barrels per hectare,” he said pointing out that ­ with winter barley quality still largely based upon the variety Proctor, through introgression with spring barley quality to winter barley, the hope is, a variety can be developed to improve diastatic power.