Malt barley quality, yield called best in years

Good crops in southern Alta. and central Sask. should offset problem areas such as northern Alta. and northeast Sask.

Canadian farmers are harvesting the best quality malt barley crop Peter Watts has seen in the six years he has been serving as managing director of the Canadian Malting Barley Technical Centre.

“We needed it,” he said.

“Everybody is pretty excited.”

There was little malt barley carryout heading into the 2020-21 crop, so fingers were crossed that harvest would go well and it has for the most part.

Test weights are high, kernels are plump, there are low levels of fusarium and limited chitting. Protein levels are in the 11 to 13.5 percent range.

“The early indications are very positive in terms of quality,” said Watts.

Yields are impressive as well. Statistics Canada forecasts an average of 69.1 bushels per acre, the fifth highest on record.

Dave Bishop, chair of Alberta Barley and a farmer from Barons, Alta., said it is a rare year when both yields and quality are tremendous in his area.

“Things are really good this year for a change. We kind of needed that,” he said.

Bishop said there is going to be an excess of malt barley so some of it will have to go to the feed market, which has also been fairly strong.

Bishop said malt barley is selling for around $5.50 per bushel while feed barley is going for $4.50 to $5 per bu. in southern Alberta.

Watts noted that not all farmers are reaping the rewards of the combination of good yields and quality.

There were some problem areas such as northern Alberta and northeastern Saskatchewan but the good crops in southern Alberta and central Saskatchewan made up for that.

The upshot is there should be ample supplies of good quality malt barley to meet domestic and export demand, he said.

Canadian domestic beer sales were down in April and May versus year-ago levels but rebounded in June and July, according to statistics compiled by Beer Canada.

Sales are equal to last year through the first seven months of the calendar year, which Watts said is a surprise.

He was anticipating more decline due to COVID-19 disruptions to sporting events, concerts and festivals.

Meanwhile, barley exports have been sensational. Canada has shipped out 310,900 tonnes of the crop through the first seven months of the year, which is triple last year’s volume.

“We’re on course to do probably a record barley export program this year from Canada,” said Watts.

The export total includes feed and malt barley. He suspects much of that is heading to China, Canada’s top customer.

Australia has been all but shut out of the Chinese market due to a political dispute that saw China implement import duties of 80.5 percent on Australian barley effective May 19.

Australia could provide stiff competition to Canada in other markets such as Japan and the United Arab Emirates.

The United States is Canada’s second largest export market. Farmers in that country produced an estimated 3.83 million tonnes of the crop, which is right in line with the previous five-year average.

U.S. demand for Canadian malt barley has been dropping of late and Watts doesn’t expect that to change.

But Mexico is a newer market and he hopes sales continue to rise there unless there is stiff competition from Australian exporters trying to replace the Chinese market.

Bishop said a good rule of thumb is that about 20 percent of Canada’s barley production and exports is malt barley while the remainder is feed.

“I don’t mind a steak and a beer. They both require barley,” he said.

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