The Irish drinks industry has been called on by the Irish Grain Growers Group (IGGG) to show more flexibility and financial support to its farmer suppliers.

In a statement this week, the tillage farmer association highlighted that the drinks industry wants to see an increase in the tillage area in Ireland – “and more specifically more spring barley grown due to the rise in demand for distilling grade malted barley”.

While welcoming this statement, the IGGG stressed that the industry “must step up to the plate more itself to help make this happen”.

We recognise the dip in sales due to Covid-19 in the early part of 2020 – but have also noted the sharp recovery in the second part of the year.

Acknowledging “first steps” taken in recent times, the Irish grain growers said: “We follow with interest the growth of Irish whiskey sales and it is positive news for the tillage sector.

“It was interesting to read about the results from Waterford Distillery about the effect barley from Irish soil has on whiskey: The Terroir.

“This is surely a huge marketing tool for those using and prepared to use Irish only grain from the Irish soil, not just barley,” the group contended.

We, as a country, should be aiming to have the drinks industry as valuable as the dairy industry with whiskey tourist trails an integral part of this target post Covid-19.

Noting that lower greenhouse gas emissions mean it would also help meet Ireland’s emissions target for 2030, the group added: “We only have to look as far as our near neighbours Scotland as an example.”

However, IGGG claimed that growing barley crops “for the likes of Boortmalt and the Malting Company of Ireland (MCI) comes with risks which have been highlighted before”.

Stressing that more flexibility needs to be shown on protein levels, the group is calling for the cut-off points for those delivering to Boortmalt in 2021 to be: distilling grade: 9.8%; brewing grade: 11.4%.

The association reiterated a call for the bonus paid to growers who achieve these grades to be increased substantially, adding:

The current pricing system on offer is failing tillage farmers because feed grade crops are still more profitable to grow if you examine Teagasc Profit Monitor figures.

“Boortmalt’s reasoning for what it charges farmers for seed needs scrutiny,” the group said.

“Farmers need clarity now also from Boortmalt on the position of contracted tonnage to be delivered. Will contracts be cut?

“The breakdown of the percentage of brewing/distilling grade barley that needs to be delivered needs clarity,” the IGGG concluded.