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Barley was once a dominant crop on the Canadian Prairies, with farmers planting nearly 14 million acres of the golden grain in 1971. By 2017, however, the number fell to just under six million acres. Farmers, faced with depressed prices and slowly declining yields, have been switching to more profitable crops.

“The shift away from barley is also driven by intense price competition in the brewing and feed sectors,” said Shannon Sereda, Alberta Barley manager of market development and policy. “The feed sector is focused on lowest cost rations with increasing price competition from other grains such as corn and wheat. Likewise, macrobrewers are increasingly looking to improve economics by substituting adjunct grains to save cost on malt.”

Canadian barley is increasingly under pressure, but global barley demand is steady or growing and Canadian barley maintains a reputation for high quality. As such, Alberta Barley and its industry Making barley great again Getting to Growth action plan identifies opportunities partners constructed a market development strategy. Entitled Getting to Growth, A Western Canadian Barley Action Plan, it seeks to increase the supply of western Canadian barley while maintaining high-value markets and growing new opportunities. Finalized in spring 2018, it provides a strategic. roadmap for achieving growth through to 2028.

Barley’s three main end uses are feed for animals, malt for beer and distilled beverages as well as food for human consumption. While Getting to Growth does not identify substantial opportunities for growth in the feed sector, the symbiotic relationship between premium malting and secondary feed barley markets is a major strength of the western Canadian barley sector, as their demand streams intersect. It also identified room for growth in the domestic feed sector so long as supply exists and prices remain competitive.

The outlook for the malting sector is bright, as Canada plays an important role in the global malt trade. Recent growth in the international craft beer industry has expanded the market for high-quality malting barley and highlighted barley as a key ingredient. Discerning maltsters pay a premium for Canadian barley. As well, craft beer production requires significantly more malt barley than does typical adjunct brewing. In the United States, for example, craft beer makes up 12 per cent of all beer sales, while accounting for 34 per cent of all malt consumed in that country. As craft beer sales grow, the market for high-quality Canadian barley varieties will increase.

Finally, the strategy identifies limited opportunities for growth in the food barley market. While there is growing recognition of the health attributes of barley, this niche market opportunity is being served by closed loop production contracts and demand is not expected to drive increased production.

In addition to identifying these opportunities, Getting to Growth sets ambitious growth targets for Canada’s barley industry. These include increasing planted area of all barley across the Prairies to seven million acres by the year 2028 and growing the average barley yield to 95 bushels an acre from the current 68 by the same year.

The strategy also provides three key industry-sustainability objectives. These include improving varietal development and acceptance, maintaining high-value markets while growing new opportunities and using varietal and agronomic advancements to increase the supply of high-quality Canadian barley exports.

“Meeting these objectives will require a concerted, coordinated effort by Canada’s barley value chain,” said Sereda. “Through continued collaboration, we can achieve the goals in Getting to Growth, and can work to ensure the prosperity of the Canadian barley industry.”


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