With this year’s harvest already well underway, the early indications suggest it could well prove to be a bumper year for barley growers and, as result, British beer producers, the National Farmers’ Union said.
Yields of Maris Otter barley, which normally average two tonnes per acre, look like running at nearer to two and a quarter, with good harvests reported from Yorkshire and a number of southern counties such as Norfolk, Suffolk, Cambridgeshire and Herefordshire.
Maris Otter is winter-sown, and the damp winter and wet May have ensured good yields. A disease-free growing season has meant that the highest ever planted area looked better than it had done for many years, the NFU said.
More than 50 per cent of all malting barley is used by distillers, with a declining percentage bought up by the British brewing industry.
Spring barley is also used for malting and Gill Mellor, owner of Wold Top Brewery near Driffield in the Yorkshire Wolds, is hopeful the brewery’s own crop will deliver a strong performance when it is harvested later this month.
“We grow spring barley which is what the maltsters require,” Mrs Mellor said. “We haven’t combined it yet but it looks like a good crop - we’re cautiously optimistic.
“In general it’s been a good year for farming with the weather. We haven’t had the early wet conditions of last year when the crop was fine and we are quite happy that this year’s crop is shaping up to be better.”
This year’s barley harvest at Wold Top will be malted for next year’s beer and will help the family-run operation to continue its production of some 35,000 pints of beer every week.
Laurence Hodgson and his family produce barley at their farm on the East Yorkshire coast near Hull. They started Great Newsome Brewery as a diversification project in 2007 by converting redundant agricultural buildings on the farm.
Mr Hodgson said he was not sure his harvest would be quite as strong as last year’s, which proved to be exceptional. “It doesn’t look at all bad but whether it will match up to last year I don’t know because that was phenomenal - four tonnes to the acre is very good for spring barley. This year, it’s too difficult to tell yet. We’ll have a better idea in a week to ten days but the wider picture across the country is encouraging.”
Gary Hutchinson, operations director at Pennine Brewery Company in Well near Masham, North Yorkshire, said he does not expect to benefit greatly from a strong crop as the prices fixed by maltsers are generally kept at a constant level because of the fuel expenses accrued in the harvesting and transportation of the crop.
“It’s fantastic for everyone if we have a bigger harvest and it’s widely reported that yields are generally well up but for us as an end user there will be a benefit but it won’t be huge,” he said. “But it will certainly be good for the economy in general and all of us involved in manufacturing if the harvest is strong and it means the public has a bit more money in their pockets.”
Mr Hutchinson said he hoped to increase production at the brewery by 30 per cent in the next 12 months. Its recent special edition beer, ‘Tour de Ale’, was sampled by Prince Harry in West Tanfield during the Grand Départ.