The changes in Britain's weather and its effect on farming could have a detrimental impact on Britain's brewing and distilling industries, which rely on 1.7 million tonnes of high-quality malted barley from the UK's farmers every year.
That's the warning from research conducted by brewing giant Molson Coors, which showed that last spring's drought had a major impact on the harvest for 32% of barley farmers. With even less rain expected for 2012, far more farmers are likely to see a reduction in yield and/or problems with the nitrogen content, threatening its use in brewing.
The research also discovered that 17% of barley farmers were planning on cutting their planting of the crop over the next five years, which puts at risk over 96,000 hectares of malting barley fields.
Jerry Dyson, raw materials manager at Molson Coors, explained: "Weather conditions always play a major role in both the availability and the quality of malting barley and this was brought into sharp focus most recently with the winter malting barley crop of 2011. The very dry spring meant that the winter barley crop had a very high nitrogen level, which significantly reduced its value for brewing."
Guy Gagen, chief arable adviser for the NFU, said: "Winter barley has traditionally been seen as a crop tolerant of summer drought as it ripens from early summer. With another dry winter, crops are at risk again. Farmers can and will take steps in an effort to cope, but there is much more that could be done with more co-ordination at the centre."
In 2008 Molson Coors set up the Molson Coors Growers Group to make the relationship between the brewer and its farmers stronger and to ensure a secure supply of quality barley. The members of the growers group enter into a contract with Molson Coors, with price set at the beginning of the year. The group now numbers about 100 members and provides nearly 30,000 tonnes of barley to Molson Coors a year.
As part of the research, 259 arable farmers were questioned by Caterer and Hotelkeeper‘s sister publication Farmers Weekly during January and February 2012.
By Neil Gerrard
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