Watch: Sowing malting barley in Co. Laois…what’s involved?

Seamus Duggan is a malting barley grower from Co. Laois. FarmLand paid a visit while he was planting Laureate spring barley for Waterford Distillery and Boortmalt at the beginning of March.

He explained what’s involved in growing malting barley and how it differs in management to feed barley.

The biggest factor is a reduction in nitrogen rate. Nitrogen of course is essential to meet high yields, but also affects protein content – which is probably the malting barley specification that farmers struggle the most with.

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“The biggest thing we have to contend with is actually protein. The baseline for distilling is 9.3%, so it’s a very low protein level and we have to get the barley down to that.”

Seamus explained that planting early should help to reduce protein levels come harvest as the crop will have used the nitrogen early in the season.

“Today, we look at this as being very early. It’s the first day of March and it’s the last of the Laureate [a malting barley variety] to be sown for Waterford Distillery. We’re incorporating in 30 units [per acre] of nitrogen to the seedbed and on emergence – the minute we can see the tramlines – we’ll follow that up with 65 units. We’ll go to 95 units.”

Ground conditions were ideal for sowing

Seamus explained that he will reduce nitrogen rates depending on the end use for the product. The risk he takes is a reduction in yield. If his barley doesn’t pass for malting he may be taking a yield hit and have to take a feed price for his barley.

“I’ll go to a max of 95 [units/ac] here for the distilling. We’ll probably go, for general malting, to maybe 100 up to 110 and on feeding anything up to 140 units. We push it for yield on feeding. We suffer a little bit for yield on malting, but it’s all for the quality of the malting product.

Sometimes you wonder is it just as easy to grow feeding barley and have none of the hassle, but I suppose we’ve been malting barley growers here for generations and we take pride in it.

“We want to get it right. We want to support the Irish drinks industry down the line,” Seamus added.

The Laois man who is a member of the Irish Farmers’ Association’s (IFA’s) malting barley committee explained that a little bit more on price could make a big difference to the farmer.

“Everything is there to produce this quality Irish malting barley. A little bit more for it would be nice.

A small bit will go an awful long way as regards price.

“I’m part of a committee that works with Boortmalt. I know we’ll get there at the end of the day because none of us want to see malting barley going out of this country and I’ll continue to grow it, hopefully long into the future.”