Demand for spring malting barley RGT Planet is set to build this season as more maltsters and brewers switch to the variety.
RGT Planet, the most widely grown spring barley in the UK, is expected to account for 25-30% of UK maltsters intake in 2018/19, according to breeder RAGT Seeds.
Stuart Shand, Sales Director at Gleadell Agriculture, says maltsters like the variety because it processes well.
“They don’t like working with lots of different varieties with different nitrogen levels. A homogenous intake of a variety that performs well enables them to be more efficient and flexible, and RGT Planet fits the bill.”
The variety is also proving a hit with growers, due to it being the highest yielding fully approved spring barley on the Recommended List and its excellent agronomic characteristics. Buy-back contracts have been snapped up, resulting in an industry-wide sell out, says Mr Shand.
This push from grower and maltster is persuading more and more brewers to list it as a preferred variety, he adds.
“Brewers, especially the global ones, are naturally conservative when it comes to switching out of tried and tested varieties. But as those varieties become harder to source, brewers have to start looking at the newer ones.”
RGT Planet is now firmly on their radar, a satisfying outcome for Gleadell and Mr Shand in particular. He has had his eye on the variety for the past five years, as Gleadell is one of the leading merchants in the country that advise end-use customers on up-and-coming varieties and bring them through the system, enabling them to become recommended.
It’s a relatively risky process, requiring significant investment in untested varieties. “We take a view on one or two new varieties early on in the trials process, talking to the breeder in person and assessing available agronomic data,” says Mr Shand.
“At the NL1 stage we send 2kg samples to maltsters for micromalting tests. If maltsters and brewers are positive, at the NL2 stage we send batches of 200-2000t for test.
“The difficult year is before they become recommended, so we need to have done our homework well. The Institute of Brewing and Distilling doesn’t approve varieties until the June after RL recommendation. But we need enough of a variety in the ground ahead of that decision to be able to supply maltsters with 2000-20,000t batches to conduct large scale, commercial trials.
“That can be risky. If we get it right, we get a commercial advantage, but only for a year. If it goes wrong, we are faced with a big bill.”
RGT Planet was one of the easier decisions, he adds, as it stood out at an early stage. “It was the only spring variety we took forward in 2015/16, and is certainly one of the more successful varieties we worked with in the 20 years we have been assessing varieties.”
RGT Planet pushed yields to a new high when it was recommended in 2015, and there is still no significant difference between it and the highest yielding newcomer in 2018.
With only one or two varieties in the trials pipeline likely to challenge that, plus its high quality, Mr Shand believes RGT Planet will remain a favourite among farmers and end users for several seasons to come.
With increasing tonnages of RGT Planet and other high-yielding spring barleys available, UK homes could be harder to find the 2018 UK harvest produces more normal yields and quality, says Mr Shand. Overall, he calculates an extra 700,000t could be produced.
In addition, uncertainty over Brexit means export sales from March 2019 have ceased, which could mean even more barley looking for a home, in the short term at least.
“We always advise malting barley growers to have a pre-harvest contract. There are many types of contract available, depending on what type of grower you are. Many farmers will have more than one contract, making it a safer crop to grow. Your merchant can worry about marketing it, leaving you to concentrate on growing it.”
Learn more on RGT Planet here.