Meeting malting protein specs more valuable than ever…here are some tips

This year it looks like meeting malting standards could be a lot more profitable than in years gone by and so it is worth paying some more attention to nitrogen and crop management on barley sown for malting.

Green feed barley prices for next harvest are currently around €146.00/t, while many Boortmalt suppliers have 40% of their malting contracts fixed at an average price of €212.50/t.

That’s a massive difference in price and in profit if you manage to tip into the malting heap.

If your barley meets distilling standards a further €10/t will be added to that price, so cutting back on the nitrogen application in order to meet protein standards may well be worth it

At this year’s Teagasc Malting Barley Conference, Teagasc’s Richie Hackett gave growers some tips on nitrogen application to reach malting specifications.

He told the crowd in attendance to: “Manage the crop for high yield, but avoid high nitrogen availability to the crop.”

The key to low protein content is to increase crop yield and starch content. A healthy crop canopy, high tiller numbers, maximum light interception and delayed senescence will all contribute to increased starch content and therefore lower protein content.

Reduced nitrogen rate

Richie stated that where the majority of nitrogen is applied before GS31 the timing of application will have little consistent effect on protein content.

Rate is the complicating factor. There isn’t a magic nitrogen rate. Differences in yield levels, soil nitrogen content and fertiliser efficiency will all affect grain protein content.

However, a reduced nitrogen rate will increase the probability of achieving a particular spec, according to Richie.

Richie showed a graph which identified a nitrogen rate of 150kg/ha. This rate gave a range in protein contents between 7.7% and 13.2% on different sites.

He then went on to show the percentage of crops with a protein content less than or equal to 9.3% when lower nitrogen rates were applied across trials carried out in Teagasc.

Data source: Teagasc

While the low nitrogen rates used in the trials above are not practical to reach an economical yield, they do show where a balance can be met.

Richie explained that ideally no more than 120kg/ha of nitrogen should be applied in order to maximise the chances of producing low protein barley.

He also advised using previous field protein results to help to gauge the rate and explained that protein content reduces by 0.2% per 10kg/ha reduction in nitrogen rate.

A few quick tips:
  • Choose a long-term tillage site with good yield potential;
  • Avoid sites which have recently received manure or slurry;
  • Choose a site with a history of low protein;
  • Sow early, but in good conditions;
  • Choose a site with adequate lime, phosphorus and potassium;
  • Ensure good weed, disease and pest control.