Malt barley growers face tough questions in soggy Alberta

CNS Canada — Unseasonably wet conditions in Alberta this year are causing quality concerns for malt barley growers there.

Harvest typically begins in late August for many growers, but steady downpours have forced delays across much of the province.

“We actually started Sept. 1, but we only got two days in before it started to rain. We got two days in the following week and four days last week and that’s the extent of it; it’s just been that wet,” said Jason Lenz, an Alberta Barley director who farms northwest of Red Deer.

“I think the maltsters are definitely not going to get the quality they’re hoping for. That may increase the price of malt, but anyone that has barley that’s starting to chit bad and lose its germination, they’re going to take dockage,” he said.

His concerns are echoed by fellow director Jeff Nielsen, who has an operation near Olds. “I’ve had two days of harvest weather the whole month of September.

“Conditions are questionable right now; there is the possibility of higher chit in the barley,” he said.

As a rule, malt generally does worse in high-moisture situations, as the germ will break away from the kernel too easily. Maltsters have strict specifications for the malt they accept, which usually requires protein content of roughly 11-12.5 per cent (dry basis).

Both producers said they think it’s possible companies may decide to lower the requirements if too much of the barley is wet.

“They have in the past, because they need certain volumes to keep their plants full,” said Lenz.

Rain is threatening to push back the entire harvest to a point where damage is unavoidable, Nielsen added.

Current prices are already lower than last year, when they crept above the $6 a bushel mark, he said.

“We contracted some for $5.40  or $5.50 this year. I believe the last two months it went down to about $5.25. I would expect (the price) would go up a little bit due to these wet conditions.”

At the end of the day, Lenz said, what’s needed is warm weather and dry winds.

“It’s a double-edged sword: there’s a lack of quality stuff, but the price will go up. Still, anyone that does get accepted for lower-quality malt will endure a discount.”

Nielsen decided to swath his barley after some of it became lodged.

Both he and Lenz expect the true state of the crop to become clearer as more samples are sent to maltsters.

Dave Sims writes for Commodity News Service Canada, a Winnipeg company specializing in grain and commodity market reporting. Follow CNS Canada at @CNSCanada on Twitter.

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