These are exciting times for Canadian malting barley. That’s the message growers heard at a recent Malt Masters event featuring keynote speakers from the Canadian Malting Barley Technical Centre (CMBTC).
“We’re really seeing an uptick in demand for Canadian malting barley,” says Peter Watts, Managing Director, CMBTC, as he highlighted conditions in the international market.
Drought has plagued some of Canada’s key competitors this year, including Australia, Northern Europe and the UK. Because they’ll have considerably smaller supplies of malting barley, there’s a great opportunity for another strong malting barley export program from Canada this year.
Watts and his colleague Yueshu Li, Director of Malting and Brewing Technology, are particularly excited about the potential with China – Canada’s largest export market for malting barley.
Record exports with China
“About 85 percent or more of our malting barley exports this year will go to China. The stars aligned, and we ended up doing a record export program, reaching close to 1.5 million tons of malting barley exports this year,” says Watts, adding that the market grew from about 850,000 tons the year before.
The CMBTC hosted a delegation of 15 people from across China’s barley chain this summer. The tour, which included an itinerary with stops in Saskatchewan and Alberta, allowed the Chinese maltsters, brewers and grain merchants to see first-hand the quality of Canadian malt barley and the passion that goes into growing it.
“Canadian farmers should feel proud because the Chinese visitors are impressed by our operations,” says Li. “I assured them that our farmers … and our grain companies are careful with what they are doing. We have technical back up. We can support you. If you buy barley from us we are very happy to help you make a good malt and to help you make a good beer.”
New genetics give Canada a competitive boost
As part of the delegation, the Chinese buyers learned about Canada’s newest malting barley varieties.
“We're slowly weaning them off those 20-year-old varieties and hopefully transitioning them into these new, higher-yielding varieties,” says Watts. They offer better economics and quality equal to existing varieties, he adds. Watts expects the varieties will make Canada even more competitive in the future.
“The CMBTC has been working very hard at encouraging Chinese buyers to purchase the newer varieties of barley out of Canada,” says Bev Jones, Cereal Seed Product Lead for Syngenta. She points to AAC Synergy as an example of a variety that offers growers a yield bump over the older genetics. “Buyers are interested in learning how new varieties impact farmers – they prefer not to switch varieties because it might mean they have to change their recipe slightly but they're willing to do that and definitely willing to look at it some more.”
Li and the team at the CMBTC are actively addressing customer concerns that new varieties meet their technical requirements. “We do a lot of work with the industry. We basically do a lot of trials – we make the malt and we make the beer according to their processing protocols. We provide a report and we give it to them to help them understand.” Li has even invited maltsters and brewers to use the CMBTC lab to produce their own malt and beer from the new varieties. “In the end, they usually find that the varieties do indeed meet their specs.”