Germany: Brewing barley with strong North-South divide

This year’s brewingh barley crop shows a strong weather-related north and northeast versus south and southeast gradient in all relevant parameters, according to a recent report by German Brewing Barley Association (Braugersten-Gemeinschaft e.V.). During the past few weeks the association has gathered information during several field inspections and information events in the key German barley-growing regions of Germany.

While experts predict a crop of acceptable quality with slightly below average yields in Bavaria, Baden-Württemberg, Rhineland-Palatinate, North-Rhine-Westphalia, and Lower Saxony, they predict substantial reductions in yields and quality in Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt, and parts of Thuringia, as well as in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern and Brandenburg.

On the positive side, the warm and dry weather kept pests and diseases well in check in this year′s spring barley crop. But in several regions, some secondary tillering was observed, which, however, was generally able to reach the full fruiting stage. Sporadically, unfavorable weather events and strong gusts of wind caused more fields than normal to be harvested with lodging damage.

Conditions were generally hot and dry during the final phases of plant maturation, which is why the plants did not experience significant reductions in quality right before harvest time. In spite of the relatively late planting date, the harvest started during the second week of July and, because of the prevailing dry and summer-like conditions, the crop will reach the silos in its entirety in a dry and healthy state.

The total German acreage devoted to spring barley this year is roughly 410,000 ha, compared to 340,000 ha the year before. Several reasons account for this roughly 20% increase:

  • Many fields intended for fall plantings could not be seeded at the time for weather-related reasons. These fields were planted with spring barley instead.
  • Spring barley is excellently suited as part of a four-crop rotation. In addition, the fertilizer requirements of extensive spring barley cultivation fit well with the overall fertilizer strategy mandated by new German fertilizer regulations.
  • Finally, at the time of planting, the price prospects for brewing barley appeared rather favorable compared to those for other grain crops.

It must be noted, however, that the increase in barley acreage was not entirely motivated by a desire to produce brewing-quality barley.

After a long winter with plenty of precipitation, plantings got off without a hitch during the first two weeks of April, when both weather and soil conditions were excellent. There was sufficient moisture in the ground to allow the plants to get a uniformly good start.

In April and May however, precipitation throughout all of Germany was well below average. In the German regions that did get some precipitation in mid-May, crops were still able to develop satisfactorily and are likely to produce average yields with acceptable protein values.

In the north and northeast of the country, on the other hand, precipitation did not materialize. The result there is a crop that shows substantial deficiencies and signs of stress. Specifically, these plantings produce lower yields per acre; their kernel development is impaired; and their protein content is elevated, as one would expect.

Because of the prognoses gathered from the different barley-growing regions, the German Brewing Barley Association currently predicts an aggregate German brewing barley harvest of roughly 1 million metric tons.  The main varieties planted in Germany this season are Avalon, Catamaran, Quench, Solist, and RGT Planet.

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