Investigate new varieties now

At the time of writing (mid-January) most of you will have already committed to a cropping plan for 2016, at least in part. But what to drill in the spring? There will of course be many answers, depending on each farm’s individual circumstances. We also have to assume that we’re in a low price era, with the cereal market at a six-year low and high global stocks.

For a long time Scottish wheat growers have enjoyed a premium over English wheat, but that has now changed, with Scottish wheat trading on a par or even at a discount to English. Added to that, the demand for grain for whisky use has fallen by 100,000 tonnes since 2013, and is likely to continue to fall in the short term. To compound the problems of the spring barley grower, the English area is predicted to increase by 100,000 ha for 2016 and the variety of necessity for malting remains Concerto.

Opportunities to supply niche markets such as gluten free oats and heritage varieties for craft brewing require attention to detail and good marketing to do successfully.

However, the bulk of growers will still be aiming for the malting barley market. On variety choice – 2016 is likely to be similar to 2015, when 75% of the malting intake was Concerto, with Belgravia and Odyssey taking up most of the remainder.

Although there are currently no alternatives with full IBD approval, some new varieties under testing are worth keeping an eye on, perhaps trying a small area of to compare with Concerto for future reference, under the same growing conditions.

Octavia and Sienna have both had three years of micro-malt testing, are higher yielding (10% and 8% respectively) than Concerto and have no obvious agronomic weaknesses.

Laureate is a year behind in testing, with two years of results. The yield is 14% above Concerto, and a good untreated yield suggests this will be a more robust variety with good agronomic properties.

For growers who prefer the high N grain distilling market, Olympus is looking like a potential replacement for Belgravia at 12% higher yielding, and reasonable agronomy, although it is slightly weak on screenings. With yields similar to or higher than any of the feed varieties, it may be worth trying new varieties on a small scale and familiarising yourself with their agronomy, in case demand for them increases in the future

Gavin Dick - Scotland

Gavin Dick - Scotland

AHDB Cereals & Oilseeds Manager (Scotland). Previously a business specialist with SAC, working to broaden farmers’ business management skills.