UK spring barley sowings looked set to hit their highest the
1980s - but that does not mean that malting barley production will rise in
line, with a shortage of seed set to limit the amount of quality grain.
Evergrain, the Swiss-based malting barley trader, pegged the
UK's newly-started spring barley plantings this year at 830,000 hectares, a
rise of more than one-third year on year.
This would appear to be the highest acreage since the 1980s,
which began with plantings in England alone at more than 1.0m hectares, and is
a reflection of the extent of land left unsowable in the autumn by persistent
rains which prevented field work.
While official data are not yet available, general market
thinking is that about 20% of winter wheat was left unsown, with many crops
that were seeded in the autumn lost to slugs.
"The spring barley acreage estimate might have some upside,"
Andries de Groen, Evergrain managing partner, told Agrimoney.com.
Malting vs feed
However, the proportion of the spring crop, which provides
the great majority of UK malting barley, making it to malting grade may rise by
only some 16%, thanks to a squeeze on seed supplies which will force farmers to
turn to non-ideal varieties.
"Some may not plant their usual variety, or varieties not
approved for malting," Mr de Groen said.
"Quite a lot of spring barley will end up as feed barley."
The group estimated that only 39% of spring crop would make
the grade, down from a typical percentage near 50%.
Nonetheless, this would leave the UK with an exportable
surplus of nearly 200,000 tonnes, well up on the 15,000 tonnes in 2012-13.
The European Union's overall exportable malting barley
surplus will be just short of 800,000 tonnes, factoring in hefty imports
forecast for Germany, a figure "not too
comfortable, but not tight, just OK", Mr de Groen said.
Germany, a big malting barley consumer for its beer
industry, will see imports in 2013-14 double to 580,000 tonnes, as its own
Most European countries, including Germany, did not suffer
the same autumn planting hiccups as the UK and, with winterkill rates seen low
too, their spring sowing acreage is seen declining.
Evergrain estimates French and German spring barley sowings
tumbling by some 40%, to "historic levels".