Improving the profitability & sustainability of Esperance port zone grain growers

Malt Barley Project

Project timeline - March 2017 - Feb 2020

Executive summary

WA is a significant producer of barley and its geographical proximity to Asia makes it an obvious supply source to quench the thirst of a fast growing, affluent middle class of beer drinkers. However, our production scale and logistical proximity to this market is not cause for complacency as there are some key quality and trade risks going forward.

Bulk shipping rates and lower production costs from other international regions will easily undermine this advantage at any stage. Other barley and malt producing nations also view the growth in Asia as an opportunity and we need to maintain vigilance if we are to capitalise on the regions trade opportunities. For this to occur, WA needs to engage in a supply chain dialogue to grow our barley export value and optimise each seasons crop offering into market.
The low level of barley protein has been recorded as negative market feedback for a number of years and needs immediate attention if WA is to maintain buyer preference in the Asian brewing market. Some international customers rated the protein level as a more important attribute that the price, which indicates the seriousness of this quality perimeter.

These project findings have since initiated collaboration work with DPIRD agronomy researcher Jeremy Curry on nitrogen management for protein optimisation in malting barley. This area of research will need to be continued as well as investigate ways to increase legumes in the rotation for longer term sustainability.

The adoption of new barley varieties into the supply chain will be an eternal issue for the WA and this needs to be accepted at all levels of the industry. Instead of trying to settle on a select 1 or 3 varieties we need to concentrate on implementing systems and attitudes that allows a revolving door for old varieties to exit and embrace the rise of new. New crop varieties are a reality of a modern farming systems and they will always be present.
There is opportunity to look at ways for brewers to feel more confident with the substitution of a new variety for old via an attribute mapping system like that used in the hop industry. This will require defining flavour attributes of existing varieties in the system as well as mapping new varieties as they are released. This project has contributed its pilot malting samples to an evaluation process funded by GRDC, which hopefully is the start of embracing variety transition the full length of the supply chain.

The WA industry cannot afford to be complacent in the areas of food safety for our export barley markets. We have a strong reputation as a safe source of food and as an industry we must work to ensure science and procedure protect our long-term reputation. This is topic needs objective scientific rigour which ideally should be led by an independent organisation such as DPIRD with industry support.

To date WA has done well on the growth of demand from the Chinese market. The recent cooling of trade relations with China has shown a vulnerability of WA over relying on China for an export market. In response to this, the project suggests attention be directed to growing other Asian markets for WA barley. Key countries of interest are South Korea and India. India possibly has the greatest potential for significant market change in the near future. Currently WA exports of barley are not possible to India due to phytosanitary barriers to this market. It is hoped that the ongoing work by AEGIC supported by advocacy from government can make inroads in this area.

DPIRD black hires