A conference organised by the Home-Grown Cereals Authority (HGCA) and the Maltsters’ Association of Great Britain (MAGB) enabled farmers to learn about the needs of maltsters and brewers; an essential move if British producers are to maximise the market opportunities for beer, said farmer Marie Skinner, chair of the HGCA Crop Marketing Committee.

“With all the debate surrounding publication of the Curry Report this week, the conference could not have been more timely,” said Skinner: “The report highlights the need for more joined-up thinking along the food chain, and […] the conference [was convened] for precisely this reason – to give growers a much-needed opportunity to hear and discuss first-hand about the market needs of maltsters and brewers.”

She added: “The malting market is a prime example of the need for more technical communication between farmers and their end-markets. For example, even the fundamental message about the nitrogen levels required is simply not getting through to everyone.”

Despite declining sales of beer in this country – due to the growing popularity of wine and alco-pops – the world market is more buoyant and expected to increase by 2.5% each year. This is largely driven by dramatic growth in South American and Chinese markets; as their economies develop, so too does the taste for beer.

“But the dominant world market is now for lager rather than the beers that we have traditionally grown for. Lager-brewing is a very different process, requiring higher levels of grain nitrogen. There’s an opportunity here, but if we’re to be competitive in an increasingly tough market we must take this into account,” insisted Skinner.

Farmers were able to express their concerns about the future of malting barley profitability and the changing way in which the market is supplied. As more grain is sold forward the onus on good storage will increasingly be transferred to farmers.

MAGB supported the launch of a new web site at the conference, designed to help growers gain competitive advantage. It gives specifications for preferred varieties, nitrogen banding and even tonnages required with different nitrogen contents for the coming harvest.

For further information, visit the HGCA (www.hgca.com) and MAGB (www.ukmalt.com) websites.