Harvest delays prompts questions about malt barley supplies

The long, wet harvest of 2018 has probably spelled the end for most hopes that barley still in fields will meet malting specifications.

“I really suspect that anything left in the field now, any barley now, will not be malting quality,” said Jeff Nielsen, a farmer near Olds, Alta., and a director of the Alberta Barley Commission.

Nielsen said he managed to get his barley off during a brief harvest window in early September, as many others did. But, he said on Oct. 10 that he had not been able to get into fields since Sept 10.

Cameron Goff, a farmer near Hanley, Sask., and a director on the Saskatchewan Barley Development Commission, agrees chances are small that any barley left in fields will be good for anything but feed. But, he says, he is still holding out hope that some of the late-seeded barley still standing will be able to meet malting quality specs, provided it wasn’t hit too badly by frost.

Like Nielsen, Goff said he managed to get all of his barley taken off before the heavy precipitation hit.

“It’s a shorter season crop and if you’re really after malt you do try and get it in because bad weather in September isn’t all that uncommon. It can really kick malt barley more than anything else as far as downgrading,” he said.

On the supply side, Nielsen said he thinks maltsters will be able to draw on old crop and that should get them enough to see them through.

He added that he managed to recently sell some of his old-crop barley and thinks a fair amount of supply is still sitting in bins thanks to a large, high quality crop last year.

“I think there is a good supply of good quality (old-crop) malt out there.”

Prices for malt barley have ranged between C$5.50 and C$5.60 per bushel at elevators in his area. Feed barley prices have been around C$5.25 per bushel, he said, although by shopping around and calling brokers, farmers might be able to do better than prices posted at local elevators.

Goff, meanwhile, wonders if maltsters might have to stretch a bit to source supplies this winter. He said he agrees last year’s crop will help, but he doesn’t know how many farmers still have some of those stocks left. Many farmers moved old crop when it appeared that another large, good quality harvest for barley and wheat was imminent.

He said he heard from companies about three weeks ago, looking to buy barley for fall, winter and next summer delivery and that tells him that they do not have enough.

“So, I can’t see if they got that many orders on the books, if you will, they were still looking for it two to three weeks ago, I can’t see them getting them filled.”

He said prices of about C$5.25 per bushel were being offered, but it was when many believed there was not going to be much feed around. The longer harvest drags on under heavy precipitation, the more that situation will change.

But of five different places around his area, he said C$5.25 per bushel was the best offer, C$5.40 bushel if he was willing to accept spring delivery.

This year’s long, wet harvest might have come at a bad time, just as export markets were growing. Nielsen said he hoped those buyers would not suddenly be shorted and left to find new suppliers. He added that foreign buyers may be able to find new opportunities within Canada to fill their needs. Some higher protein barley grown in drier areas of the south, which was not suited for malt, may be headed that way. As well, Nielsen said, a lot of other grain, such as wheat, may yet enter the feed market.

Statistics Canada estimated Alberta farmers would grow 4.042 million tonnes of barley in 2018. Saskatchewan farmers were tapped to grow 3.237 million tonnes, Manitoba farmers 492,900 tonnes and Canadian farmers overall, were expected to harvest 8.227 million tonnes this year.

According to the latest crop report for conditions as of Oct. 2, the Alberta barley crop was 45.7 percent harvested. That accounts for 82 percent completed in the south, 41.5 percent in central regions, 14.4 percent in the northeast, 17.2 percent in the northwest and 29.3 percent in the Peace district.

The Saskatchewan barley crop overall was reported as 81 percent complete in the latest crop report as of Oct. 8; Manitoba’s barley crop was estimated at 97 percent done in the Oct. 9 crop report.

The latest Statistics Canada stocks report released in September, stated 1.256 million tonnes were still on hand, but it did not break out how much of that was planned for malt.

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