‘0.5% increase to the protein limit would make a big difference’

The spring barley harvest moved into top gear this week and the real situation of yields and protein contents has started to emerge.

Yields are down 1.5t/ac is common, while 2t/ac is standard and 2.5t/ac plus has been achieved.

Protein content is high; 16% has been reported by farmers to AgriLand, but the general run of results is between 11.5% and 13%.

The quality parameter is important in both animal feed and malting barley. Farmers supplying malting barley must have a protein content below 12%. Farmers who supply feed barley are not paid extra for high-protein grain.

High protein contents

The main malting barley purchaser in Ireland – Boortmalt – rose the protein limits for brewing barley from 10.8% to 12% in the early days of harvest 2018. Other malting barley purchasers have also raised the limits to 12%. However, the amount of barley being accepted is still minimal.

The amount of grain reported to have been passing over the weighbridge destined for brewing barley in the midlands is in the minority, while distilling barley is at a premium.

In the south of the country, counties such as Cork and Tipperary are seeing some of the higher yields and, with this, lower protein contents. Figures between 10% and 11% are being commonly reported.

In other counties such as Wexford, yields are low – between 1.5t/ac and 2t/ac has been reported to AgriLand. Much of the barley is being delivered at below 12% protein content, perhaps due to the late sowing and drought which may have affected nitrogen uptake.

Malting barley shortage

There is expected to be a 500,000t deficit of malting barley in the EU this season and, as the majority of farmers fail to pass the protein test on home soil, there is expected to be a massive shortfall of Irish malting barley in 2018.

Different protein for different beer

Different beers are made from a range of protein contents, so the high-protein barley could be used to fill some gap in the market.

Limit change

Speaking to AgriLand, Michael Hennessy – Teagasc’s head of knowledge transfer for tillage – stated that where farmers would usually have proteins of between 9% and 11%, this year readings are generally between 9% and 14%.

“If the protein was moved slightly it would be a huge help to everyone in the industry.

“I think a change of 0.5% would go a long way to getting a lot more malting barley over the weighbridge,” Michael explained.

Farm-to-farm trade

Meanwhile, farm-to-farm trade is at its busiest in years. High-protein contents and low-moisture contents have allowed farmers to cut out the middle man.

Feed mills are also under pressure to get feed out to farmers and this has helped trading between livestock and tillage farmers. At 16% protein, it makes a lot of sense.