By Steve Hoad,

Agronomy team leader SRUC

THIS YEAR provides a real opportunity for the industry to weaken Concerto’s dominance of the malting sector, with some promising varieties coming through.

Scottish yields are being held back now that Concerto and Belgravia yields are becoming outclassed. If trials performance was realised on farm, then new varieties would allow malting barley and feed growers to target an extra half tonne per hectare.

The latest SRUC spring barley list includes eight varieties at the provisional approval stage for malting use, making it the longest and strongest list for many years.

However, with so wide a choice among new varieties, it is important to follow what the malting /distilling market prefers as a Concerto replacement, or as an alternative to Belgravia for grain distilling.

As it passes through the National List and Recommended systems each new variety undergoes rigorous testing by maltsters, distillers and brewers. This starts with micro-malting analysis before larger scale trials and testing of commercial bulks.

The current position for each sector is as follows:

Malt distilling use

Laureate has provisional approval for malt distilling and brewing. Its agronomic features are very good and it yields an impressive 12% above Concerto. Its specific weight is just below average.

Sienna has provisional approval for malt distilling. It is a year older than Laureate and this year’s industry evaluation will decide its future. It is high yielding and has excellent resistance to ramularia. With a high specific weight it may also be of value in the batch malting process.

Octavia has full approval for malt distilling and brewing. It had some industry evaluation last year, but now needs an industry steer before it can become commercially successful. Straw strength and brackling risk are moderate and specific weight is below average.

KWS Sassy has provisional approval as a malting variety. The industry positioning is towards distilling, but not brewing. It has a similar yield to Laureate and is relatively tall with intermediate straw strength.

LG Opera is new on the AHDB and SRUC lists. It is very high yielding and ripens slightly earlier than other malt distilling varieties. It has good resistance to brackling and specific weight is relatively low, with screenings just above average.

Varieties for grain distilling

Belgravia remains the only fully recommended variety for grain distilling and the search for a new high grain nitrogen variety continues.

Olympus is provisionally approved for grain distilling use, although it has not yet gained wide appeal. Its high agronomic yield is likely to dilute grain nitrogen content, so careful fertiliser management is needed. Apart from a moderate resistance to brackling, its agronomic features are good.

Fairing has provisional approval for grain distilling use. With an agronomic yield intermediate to Belgravia and Olympus there is likelihood that acceptable grain nitrogen content can be achieved. Fairing has the best all-round agronomic features of any variety on the list, including the earliest maturity and excellent resistance to rhynchosporium.

Dioptric is a new variety under test for grain distilling use. As a very high yielding variety, more testing is needed to check that high grain nitrogen content are achievable. It has low brackling risk, excellent resistance to ramularia and stiff straw.

Brewing only varieties

RGT Planet has full approval for brewing use. It is very high yielding, with excellent agronomic features, including early maturity.

KWS Irina is fully approved for brewing. It has a very high yield, with short and very stiff straw, with excellent resistance to brackling, but its specific weight is lower than other varieties.

Propino is a well-established brewing variety. Its yield is now falling behind newer varieties, but stiff straw, early maturity and good specific weight are positive features.

Feed options

The only fully recommended feed variety is Scholar, but all malting varieties with a yield at Propino level or above can also be considered for feed use.

Early maturity

Fairing, RGT Planet, KWS Irina and Propino are good choices. For taller straw then consider KWS Sassy, Sienna or Propino. Fairing looks strong for all-round agronomics with low screenings and good specific weight.