Importance of nitrogen in achieving spring barley malting specifications
20 March 2023, UK: In the Summer 2022 edition, the Maltsters’ Association of Great Britain (MAGB) commented that ‘UK maltsters are likely to buy around 1.8 million tonnes of malting barley from the 2022 crop’. This indicates the continued high demand for high quality British spring malting barley. The spring malting barley market has two major sectors in the UK making up over 90% of the purchases by UK maltsters: brewing for beer and malt distilling for whisky production.
Spring varieties for the brewing market are grown mainly in England, while malt distilling varieties are grown mainly in Scotland, extending into some regions of Northern England and East Anglia.
The separate, much smaller grain distilling market accounts for just over 2% of spring barley purchases in Scotland. Most of the grain distilling crops are grown in Scotland, but a small but increasing area can be found in England.
Understanding and attaining the correct grain nitrogen specifications in crops grown for these different markets is essential to meet end user requirements and to achieve the associated premiums.
Different spring barley varieties are suitable for different end use markets. The majority of spring barleys grown for malting in the UK are listed on the MAGB Malting Barley Committee Approved List
MALTING BARLEY COMMITTEE APPROVED LIST – HARVEST 2023
- LAUREATE has full MBC approval for brewing and malt distilling and is widely accepted across England and Scotland. Its consistent performance both on-farm and with end-users has established LAUREATE as the malting variety of choice.
- FAIRING is the only approved grain distilling variety in the UK and will have high N contracts in different regions of Scotland, check locally for these contracts.
- SY TENNYSON joined the latest AHDB Recommended List last autumn in an unrivalled yield position, becoming the highest yielding variety with potential for both the brewing and malt distilling markets. SY TENNYSON continues to be tested through the MBC process to gain approval, but we can already see it has very promising quality for both the malt distilling and brewing markets.
- SY SIGNET is a very high yielding spring malting barley under test for brewing with strong farmer focused agronomics and the potential for export. As with SY TENNYSON, we can also see SY SIGNET demonstrating its yield consistency across differing seasons in both treated and untreated conditions. SY SIGNET also has exceptional Hot Water Extract, second only to SY TENNYSON on the 2023 AHDB Recommended List.
It is essential to know the grain specifications you are aiming for and the exact requirements of your maltster.
Local contracts for the malting varieties will specify the % grain nitrogen required along with other criteria such as screenings and specific weight. Some varieties can be used for multiple markets, so getting the nitrogen right is key to gaining premiums for malting barley.
As a rule of thumb, domestic brewing markets require 1.6-1.75% grain N, while malt distilling requires grain N below 1.65%. Growers of grain distilling varieties are typically aiming much higher with a target grain N over 1.85%.
However, it is important to note these different market requirements can vary so always check locally with your intended maltster or your growing contract, if you have one.
Tailoring nitrogen inputs will help to achieve the required grain N specification of your malting barley crop.
- Low nitrogen contracts below 1.65%:
Lower total N is required. Syngenta trials found no significant difference in yield or % grain nitrogen between applying 100% in the seedbed or in 2 splits, applied before GS15. Rates of 125 kg N/ha in Syngenta malt distilling trials raised yield without exceeding the 1.65% grain N threshold, but when increasing to 150 kg/ha, then % grain N became more marginal.
- UK domestic brewing contracts between approximately 1.6 and 1.75%:
Follow RB209 guidance on splits and timings. 2 splits may increase grain N content in certain situations and seasons. Syngenta brewing trials have indicated little yield benefit of exceeding 150 kg N/ha and that trying to increase further only served to increase the risk of exceeding the 1.75% N specification.
- High nitrogen contracts above 1.85%:
Syngenta trials showed increasing total nitrogen has the biggest impact on grain nitrogen, but a later application can also help to boost it in certain situations and seasons.
Always consult a qualified FACTS advisor when calculating nitrogen rates and timings, taking into consideration end market requirements and the fertility of the field. You must also work within any Government guidelines/restrictions.
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