New barley varieties slowly gaining traction

A handful of newer malting barley varieties are beginning to gain traction among brewers and foreign buyers of Canadian malt and malting barley.

But as usual, acceptance is slow and it will take time to develop stable, established markets.

For the next two or three years at least, established standbys such as Metcalfe and Copeland will likely remain the most widely produced malting barley varieties in Western Canada.

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Peter Watts, executive director of the Canadian Malting Barley Technical Centre, said foreign interest in newer varieties such as Synergy and Kindersley is building.

“Synergy is one variety that’s on a lot of people’s lips,” said Watts.

“It look like it’s quite well suited for both the adjunct brewing and the craft brewing markets, so it looks very versatile. Kindersley is another one that has some potential.”

Watts told a Jan. 12 CropSphere meeting that exports of Synergy would be greater if more was grown in Canada.

Promotion of newer malting barley varieties is a high priority at the barley research centre.

Newer varieties with superior yield potential, disease resistance packages, agronomic characteristics and brewing attributes have been registered in Canada, but the task of promoting them to large-scale breweries continues to be a challenge.

Brewing companies that like the attributes of Metcalfe and Copeland are reluctant to switch to newer varieties, which are grown in limited quantities.

“It’s a classic chicken and egg situation,” said Watts.

“End users are very comfortable using varieties like Metcalfe and Copeland. They would be very interested in trying new varieties, but we don’t have the quantities available for them to try. So the question is, how do you get your production of a new variety ramped up to the level where you can supply those big malting and brewing companies with big enough quantities in order to test those new varieties.”

The centre has been working with seed companies to develop a more co-ordinated approach to promoting new Canadian varieties.

Canadian stakeholders are working to secure larger volumes of new varieties, which allows overseas brewers to run test batches to assess brewing characteristics.

“We’re working with seed companies and with end users — the buyers in China in particular right now — to get plant scale quantities over to China for them to test,” Watts said.

“That’s an initiative that we’re working on right now so that end users can really evaluate these new varieties in their own facilities instead of relying on quality data.”

Watts said plant scale quantities of a couple of hundred tonnes are needed to give overseas buyers a reasonable opportunity to assess malting and brewing performance.

Contact brian.cross@producer.com

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