Germany: This Year’s Barley Harvest Considered the Worst in Decades

The German barley harvest of 2023 is considered the worst in decades, according to initial assessments of harvested quantities and quality analysis by the German Brewing Barley Association.

Nearly all of the weather-related conditions that can have a negative impact on the yield and quality of spring barley were observed in the 2023 growing season. The decrease in cultivated areas was already apparent in the autumn of 2022. In the previous harvest year, the quantities of fodder and energy crops harvested were insufficient to meet the needs of livestock and existing biogas plants, necessitating an increase in the spring barley cultivation area. A decrease in the cultivation area for spring barley was therefore foreseeable.

Additionally, the cultivation area was reduced due to unfavorable sowing conditions in the spring, as many farmers had to repurpose land originally intended for malting barley. With only 322,000 hectares of cultivation area, even with an average harvest, there would have been less malting barley than the previous year. The areas sown with spring barley varieties in the autumn were expanded once again, reaching around 45,000 hectares nationwide, despite some winter damage.

Following a wet and cold spring, a dry and hot weather pattern persisted for six weeks. Early-sown crops showed good tillering and early development, while late-sown crops suffered from the extreme weather conditions. Thin crops, inadequate grain filling, and early ripening collectively resulted in poor yields, below-average quality grades, and high protein content in many areas.

Approximately 50% of the spring barley grown in Germany was harvested in the early-harvest regions before the end of July. Subsequently, the progress of the harvest was interrupted by cool and rainy weather. Stalks of mature crops were kinked, some started sprouting on the stalk, and they were infested by various microorganisms that developed rapidly in the persistently humid and warm weather.

As a result of this, barley lots harvested after the rainy period were grey, had hidden or open sprouting, and issues with germination. Nevertheless, many of these lots were accepted for reasons of supply security.

The heterogeneity of the harvested goods is significant. Especially in terms of protein content and sorting, the average values comprise extremely low and extremely high individual lots. Accordingly, average values are not genuinely meaningful even on a small scale.

The cultivation area of spring barley in Germany decreased from 365,000 hectares in 2022 to 322,500 hectares (-11.6%) this year. Additionally, the yield dropped from 5.32 to 4.56 tonnes per hectare (-14.3%). Consequently, the quantity of harvested spring barley also decreased from 1,933 million tonnes to 1,498 million tonnes (-22.5%). Of the harvested spring barley, only about half meets brewing quality standards  (0.784 million tonnes), marking a 38.9% reduction compared to the previous year (1.283 million tonnes).

Concessions were made during the harvest, particularly in the areas of protein content, sorting, and external quality during goods receipt, which slightly adjusted the overall quantity upwards. The quantity of these qualities is not recorded.

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