WHILE Covid-19 did affect whisky production, the 2020 harvest confirmed that Scottish growers can produce top-level spring malting barley – and new developments for the crop in 2021 are poised to help this continue.

That was the message from a recent Scottish malting barley conference, organised online by Syngenta.

With full approval for malt distilling and brewing on the Malting Barley Committee (MBC) approved list, Laureate dominated spring barley varieties, said Bob King, commercial director at Crisp Malt.

The company's Scottish malting plants in Banffshire and Alloa used Laureate and it found favour with all malt distillers.

“Key to Laureate’s success is its consistent performance over different seasons,” added Syngenta seeds marketing manager, Tracy Creasy. “However, the days of a single variety filling all the spring barley area have gone.

"End users and growers need to spread risk. Therefore, new for 2021, we are launching SY Tungsten – a strong partner variety to Laureate for the future.”

Currently possessing provisional approval 1 for malt distilling and brewing on the MBC list for harvest 2021, Syngenta is hopeful that SY Tungsten will progress to full approval in the summer.

Technical manager, Kathryn Hamlen, said: “Fresh out of the box, SY Tungsten looks well-suited to Scotland. At 103% of control varieties, it has a high Northern yield on the AHDB Recommended List and, importantly, maintains the same maturity as Laureate.

Kathryn Hamlen has been impressed by SY Tungstens performance in Scottish trials

Kathryn Hamlen has been impressed by SY Tungsten's performance in Scottish trials

“Quality-wise, it also combines a high hot water extract, important for end users, with a low grain nitrogen content, which makes it easier for growers to achieve malt distilling specification," she said.

"Scottish trials showed about 125 kg/ha was the optimum nitrogen fertiliser dose. It also had good grain size yet had shown less grain skinning in trials than a number of other varieties. For spring 2021, perhaps grow Laureate as your main variety but try some SY Tungsten alongside it,” she added.

Syngenta's field technical manager, Dr Jonathan Ronksley, said controlling diseases that threaten establishment remained crucial to crop success. Consequently, for 2021, Syngenta is launching its advanced fungicide seed treatment, Vibrance Duo, into spring barley, he said.

“This follows recent acceptance of Vibrance Duo for use on malting crops by the British Beer and Pub Association and Campden BRI,” explained Dr Ronksley. “Importantly, however, Vibrance Duo does more than just improve crop establishment – trials show it also improves root growth and yield.

“An ADAS split field trial in Fife last year, for instance, showed a 71% increase in Laureate root weight from a Vibrance Duo seed treatment, compared to a standard seed dressing. Another ADAS trial in Clackmannanshire showed a 134% increase in root weight. There were also an average of 416 plants per metre squared and 4.1 tillers per plant. That compared with just 347 plants per metre squared and 3.3 tillers per plant where the standard triazole seed treatment was used.

Improved rooting in Laureate spring barley from a Vibrance Duo seed treatment (right) versus a standard seed treatment (left) in a Scottish trial

Improved rooting in Laureate spring barley from a Vibrance Duo seed treatment (right) versus a standard seed treatment (left) in a Scottish trial

“Overall, across 11 Laureate spring malting barley trial sites around the UK last season, we saw an average yield increase of 0.18 t/ha from the Vibrance Duo seed treatment compared with the triazole standard. In general, I feel the biggest benefits come in more challenging growing situations, where the new treatment helps to build more resilient crops.”

It is recommended that it is co-applied with a loose smut-active seed treatment in barley and cannot be used on barley grown for certified seed production.