Barley planting to increase as prices rise to record levels

Posted by Daniel Palmer on 3rd April 2008


Record prices and new players in the barley market are expected to result in an increase in barley planting in southern New South Wales according to the NSW Department of Primary Industries’ Dr Neil Fettell, supervisor of a GRDC project aimed at improving barley agronomy in south-eastern Australia.

“In many ways barley is a forgotten crop in southern New South Wales,” Dr Fettell said. “However a world shortage of malting barley – and the fact that no grain can be substituted for it – should support the record prices for some time.

“The virtual deregulation of the barley market in eastern and southern Australia has also brought new buyers into the market. In addition, the export container market has flourished in recent years due to container sea freight rates being less than bulk freight rates during this period.

“When supplies are tight, like 2007 and 2008, buyers may alter their specifications to get supply (as some did last year with malting segregations with no retention limit and up to 14% protein were available at some sites). This flexibility will disappear when supplies return to normal, but in the meantime it provides some extra attraction for barley. Together with the release of a number of promising new varieties, this makes barley an attractive alternative crop.

“Barley – whether it is malting or feed grade – is profitable. It provides a break crop for wheat foliar diseases, aids in weed control and, most importantly in terms of risk management, is a low input crop.

“Over the past couple of years the GRDC in association with its research and development partners has released varieties suited to stubble retention, no-till and precision farming systems. The GRDC-supported Southern Barley Agronomy project has now evaluated the performance of these varieties against Schooner.”

Dr Fettell said the new varieties being considered for southern NSW – Buloke, Baudin, Flagship and Vlamingh – had all out-yielded Schooner, but none met the malting grade with the same consistency.

“A lot of that has to do with grain shape and the associated retention limits,” he said. “None has the plump round grain shape that gives Schooner its advantage but higher yielding feed wheat and barley varieties are putting pressure on Schooner’s place in the rotation, while its quality is less acceptable to the export market than some of the newer varieties.”

Dr Fettell said Buloke and Baudin were attractive to the export market and suitable for low to medium rainfall areas, with Buloke out-yielding Schooner by 10% in central and southern NSW. Baudin was quicker to mature and also out-yielded Schooner but was susceptible to leaf rust and powdery mildew.

In higher yielding conditions (above two tonnes per hectare), Flagship out yielded Schooner by 4% and was similar in plant type and maturity. The Western Australian variety Vlamingh, which had been bred specifically for WA, showed variable yields in southern NSW, Dr Fettell said, but another variety on the horizon, Hindmarsh, consistently out-yielded Schooner by 10-15% across a range of sites. Hindmarsh has been released as a feed variety but is currently under evaluation for potential malting quality.

Hindmarsh, along with Buloke and a new feed variety Fleet, are expected to take over the feed barley market. Urambie, a new feed variety with a wide sowing window, offered a flexible alternative.