Bad weather threatens malt barley exports

Late seeding and persistent late-summer rain have inflicted serious quality damage on much of this year’s barley crop

Canada will likely have to curtail exports of malting quality barley this year, says an industry official.

“We will find enough malting barley for the domestic industry of course and for a limited export program,” said Peter Watts, managing director of the Canadian Malting Barley Technical Centre.

He said it will be difficult to meet the regular export requirements of about one million tonnes.

“It’s going to be tight, I guess is what I’m saying.”

Bruce Burnett, analyst with MarketsFarm, said that was not the expectation heading into the 2019-20 crop year.

“If we’d have had a nice, clear harvest season everybody would have expected we’re going to have a massive oversupply of malting barley,” he said.

That is because farmers planted an estimated 7.4 million acres of the crop, a 14 percent increase over the previous year.

But late seeding and persistent late-summer rains have inflicted serious quality damage on much of this year’s barley crop.

“We will have a significant amount that has fallen into the feed side of things,” he said.

Mitchell Japp, cereals specialist with Saskatchewan Agriculture, said anything harvested before the heavy rains started in September should be in reasonably good condition.

There was a lot of good quality barley grown in southwestern Saskatchewan and yields have been high on the early-harvested crop.

But about half of the crop got soaked late in the season and is unlikely to make malting quality.

“Malting barley is designed to germinate quickly and it does just that when it has got moisture,” he said.

“I’ve seen reports of pretty significant pre-harvest sprouting and chitting, which from a malt perspective is not very desirable.”

Watts said even the early-harvested barley that appeared to be dry and in good shape is proving problematic.

“There must have been just enough rain in those first couple of weeks of August that there was some pre-sprouting happening. It’s really widespread,” he said.

Barley remaining in fields that has since been rained and snowed on is destined for the feed market.

“It is going to be a disaster for a lot of farmers,” he said.

Burnett was a little more optimistic about the condition of the unharvested barley because much of it is located in northern Saskatchewan and Alberta.

That portion of the crop is just entering the stage of development where it is susceptible to damage, so it may have avoided some of the quality downgrading caused by the September rains.

Burnett believes there should be an “acceptable” malting quality premium of 75 cents to $1 per bushel over feed barley this year.

Watts expects the premium to be wider than that for top quality malting barley but there will be a sliding scale depending on whether it is chitted or stained.

The good news is there is no sign of fusarium in this year’s crop.

“That’s one bright spot in all this,” he said.

“That will be helpful for sure.”

The United States Department of Agriculture is forecasting 60.7 million tonnes of European Union barley production, the second biggest crop in the last decade.

Watts said it is a big crop but protein levels are extremely low, particularly in France where the average is in the eight to nine percent range.

Burnett said the big wild card is Australia. The government is forecasting a 9.5 million tonne harvest, up from 8.3 million tonnes the previous year, but it has been dry.

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