ONE OF the rising stars of the malting barley market, LG Diablo, was only fully recommended in 2018 and achieved full approval for distilling in 2019, but is set to make significant in-roads into the spring barley acreage this year, according to a grain specialist.

As with all malting barleys, there is a considerable time lag between recommendation and market take-up, however this does give growers and end-users time to see how the variety really performs from one year to another, explained Dr Steve Hoad, of the SRUC.

“Newcomer LG Diablo is giving end-users the confidence to break up the market dominance held by Concerto and more latterly, Laureate, based on what they have seen from the variety over the last few years as it goes through testing and evaluation.

“As a dual-purpose variety, with its very good grain and malting quality, LG Diablo ticks all the right boxes, and the results so far are very promising, with just the final hurdle of brewing approval to come later this spring,” he added.

Don Peters, seed manager for Scotgrain Agriculture, the procurement arm of Bairds Malt, is excited about the addition of Diablo to the malting barley portfolio, having had the variety in macro scale evaluation over the last two years.

“LG Diablo will be one of the mainstream varieties being contracted for harvest 2020. It was the first distilling bulk we processed from the 2019 crop and we are pleased to report vigorous germination despite the relative immaturity,” he said.

“The malt quality showed high extract and associated predicted spirit yield, so we are confident our distiller customers will be pleased with the variety when they process it,” he added.

Arable technical manager for its breeder, Limagrain, Ron Granger, pointed out: “One of the reasons it processes so well is that its hot water extract is a similar level to that of Concerto – a trait that helped Concerto to become a benchmark variety. A high hot water extract is heavily desired by the end user in order for them to achieve higher sugar extraction rates from the malt and the ability to create more alcohol.

“LG Diablo also has a very good specific weight, which is important in the malting industry as malting is a volume-based process and low specific weights cause reduced throughput in the processing plants.”

This will be more significant than ever this spring, with more barley going into the ground across the UK to make up the deficit from reduced autumn winter wheat plantings, as hitting specification levels becomes more acute.

Its high yields are exciting, particularly in the north with a yield of 107% out-performing other leading varieties, such as RGT Planet and Laureate, by a significant amount, he added. Its untreated yields sit at the top of the table alongside Laureate at 97% of control, and 2% over that of RGT Planet, demonstrating a robust disease resistance profile.

In terms of agronomic package, Diablo has straw characteristics similar to RGT Planet; medium in height (73cm) with good lodging and brackling resistance. On the 2020/21 AHDB Recommended List, its maturity is rated at +1, said Mr Granger.

Gordon and Graham Mackie, Laws Farm, Kingennie, Dundee, have grown the variety for two seasons and have been so pleased with it, that they will up the acreage this spring. “We talk to Bairds Malt about any new varieties worth looking at and try a small area alongside our established varieties,” said Gordon.

“A couple of years ago, we started growing a small area of LG Diablo alongside Chronicle and Sassy to see how it would do on our farm, and whereas before we have seen slight incremental improvements from a new variety, LG Diablo demonstrated a real step change in performance.

“We have had fantastic yields across the farm in different fields and very different seasons. Last year, we had more than 7.5 tonne per ha and no issues with quality. There’s no doubt the variety is pushing the boundaries of current yields, whilst holding onto its quality specification.

“Maturity wasn’t an issue for us, and let’s face it, we can’t harvest over 80 ha of barley in a day, so a spread of varieties and maturity works well. We harvest Chronicle first, then Sassy, followed by LG Diablo,” he said.

“Importantly, straw yields are also good and in the wet conditions last year, we didn’t see any skinning or brackling. We also found LG Diablo easy to handle in the combine – it thrashed well and it flowed really easily, taking half the time to tip.”

Further north, the enthusiasm for it is also strong. Stewart Grant, of TW Grant, Faich-hill Farm, Gartly, near Huntly, started growing a small amount of Diablo after being impressed with it in local trials.

“It certainly looked like it ticked all of the farmer boxes and it has not disappointed. LG Diablo was our highest yielding variety last year, bringing in around 7.9 t/ha – well above that of Concerto and Laureate, with no quality rejections,” he said.

Mr Grant likes to have a range of maturities so that he can spread harvest out, so last year, Concerto was harvested first, then Laureate, followed by LG Diablo.

He aims to grow about 120 ha of Diablo again this year and will stick with these three varieties as it helps to manage risk, and spread out harvest.

It is an approach his agronomist, John Watts, of Agrii, supports. “Having such a large area down to one variety is simply not an option. We adopt a ‘little and often’ approach to fungicide use, applying three sprays at approximately three week intervals which we find gives us good, season long protection.

“This is important not only in maximising yield but also in protecting malting quality in an area which can get significant rainfall. The 2019 growing season demonstrated this, with a very wet June presenting us with lush crops carrying tremendous yield potential but with high rhynchosporium pressure.

“Diablo responded well to our fungicide programme and delivered good yields which fell within malting specification.”