Malting barley: The sector is on a knife edge
The malsters’ treatment of their contracted barley growers is nothing short of scandalous.
One would have thought that the difficult harvesting conditions alone would have encouraged them to put a few extra euros in the direction of their farmer-suppliers – never mind the fact that beer and spirit prices have risen significantly over recent months.
Malting barley producers have every right to protest at the treatment meted out to them this year.
These farmers deliver a premium product, which is used as a core ingredient in a number of Ireland’s flagship brands. All of our top whiskeys have an Irish heritage, from farm right through to their final sale in outlets around the world.
In essence, they take all of the risk, so they should get their fair share of the rewards.
Take the weather as a case in point. It is the one variable that no one has control over. Most years will throw up challenges, where the elements are concerned, particularly around harvest time.
Yet malting barley growers continue to commit to a crop, which can be so rewarding and, at the same time, so frustrating to grow.
And, where malting barley growers are concerned, this must come in the form of a decent price.
Given these circumstances, there is a genuine need to tear up the current malting contract arrangements and start afresh. And the time to do this is now, when there is a window of opportunity to allow growers and the malting companies reflect on their priorities prior to the onset of the 2018 growing season.
Earlier this year, I was given the impression that there now exists significant scope to expand malting barley production in Ireland. But this won’t happen until growers believe that they are being treated openly and fairly.
The last thing the sector needs to witness is the demise of the malting barley industry. But this is exactly what will happen, unless growers get a fair price and a commitment from the malting companies that their worth is fully recognised.