Drinks Ireland calls on Government to support tillage

“What I’d love to see is the Government to re-establish a tillage forum – or whatever you like to call it – but something that gives strategic intent to looking at the sector equally with meat and dairy and that’s obviously a climate agenda item as well. Tillage is a quarter of the climate emissions of meat and dairy.”

Those were the words of Patricia Callan, who is the director of Drinks Ireland. Patricia was speaking to AgriLand as part of a panel discussion at the National Ploughing Championships last week on malting barley.

She was accompanied by malting barley grower Séamus Duggan. Both had strong views with ultimately one goal – to have a thriving malting barley sector.

Patricia continued on to say that the decline of the area of land in tillage needs to be addressed. If more malt is available the drinks sector wants it.

“As far as we’re concerned we are buying 100% of all of the malt that’s available in Ireland. So we’re at capacity; the question is how do we increase capacity?

What we’ve seen is a shocking decrease in the land under tillage. It’s down 62% since 1985 and that drift has been because Government is supporting other sectors such as dairy and therefore the incentive is there.

“We have two malting companies in this country which are operating at capacity. We really need the Government to look at the infrastructure around a strategy for the tillage sector and the drinks sector to ensure we get quality crops that meet specifications, which are very high, and then there is the malting capacity to deliver all of that demand -and to ensure that we can also innovate into other crops.”

Geographical indication

However, the use of imported malt has become a real source of annoyance for malting barley growers, along with the fact that the Geographical Indication for Irish whiskey has no requirement for Irish ingredients to be included in the product.

Farmer Séamus Duggan was clearly frustrated by this: “We have this geographical indicator being put up as being the be-all and end-all for the Irish drinks industry going forward, but for me they’re walking on very thin ice.”

He added: “If you can put a 53-page document together and talk all about the manufacturing process and, as you said [Patricia], the taste – it’s all very fine – but the core thing that should have been part of the geographical indicator has to be the ingredient.

He continued: “For the drinks industry to say it’s fine, it’s made in Ireland; it’s made with pot stills and this is the process we use and that’s enough to call it Irish I think it’s very, very dangerous.”

Séamus went on to say that champagne is not made from Belgium or German grapes.

“It’s called sparkling wine outside the champagne region. They’re protecting the name; they’re protecting the product. I think we’re dicing with fire because it is going to be caught out.

We have the capacity to produce the finest malt in the world. We’ve proved it this year. The stores can’t take it.

“We have any amount of malt for distilling.”