NEW BARLEY GOES ABROAD
BY PETER WATTS • PHOTO COURTESY OF SECAN
In recent years, the Canadian Malting Barley Technical Centre (CMBTC) has worked with major malting and brewing customers in China to facilitate commercial malting and brewing trials. This is the final stage in the roughly three-step process to secure new variety acceptance by end-users.
Canada has a promising suite of new malting varieties with high-quality malting and brewing characteristics, the hallmark of the nation’s barley. They also exhibit excellent agronomics and strong disease packages. Registered in recent years, they include AAC Connect, CDC Fraser, CDC Churchill (pictured above), AB BrewNet and AAC Prairie. While they ensure malting barley is a competitive cropping option, they help Canada maintain competitiveness and its reputation for high-quality product internationally.
New varieties offer significant promise of economic benefit to the value chain, but gaining acceptance by end-users, particularly brewers, is challenging and requires co-ordinated effort across the value chain.
First, shortly after registration, customers require quality data as part of their evaluation process. The CMBTC’s Western Canadian Field Trials produce samples of new and established malting varieties. Collected from 25 stations across the Prairies, these are evaluated for quality and malting performance. The data is shared with customers in the years immediately following registration to familiarize them with the characteristics each variety.
End-users then require samples of new barley varieties for their own testing and evaluation. Each year, the CMBTC sends two- to three-kilogram samples to customers in markets such as China, Colombia, Japan, Mexico and the U.S.
Ultimately, to secure end-user acceptance, new varieties must typically be put through commercial scale production trials. With the assistance of seed companies Canadian maltsters secure adequate quantities of new malting barley for commercial scale testing. Enough is typically available in the third year following registration. They process several batches and supply malt to their brewer customers for testing.
International customers do not have ready access to the new Canadian varieties. To remedy this, the CMBTC works directly with end-users in China, our largest barley export market. Commercial production trials are facilitated in China with the co-operation of barley supply chain members. Malt plants typically process batches of between 100 and 400 tonnes.
Under this trial initiative, the CMBTC works with end-users to identify the variety and quantity required. The organization then co-ordinates with a Canadian seller to supply the grain. Using market development funds, the CMBTC offsets additional costs associated with shipping containers, so buyers do not incur additional risk. It’s a win-win endeavour.
Through this program, new varieties such as AAC Synergy, AAC Connect and CDC Fraser have been shipped for malting and brewing trials with major customers in China. This has led to their acceptance by end-users. Today, AAC Synergy and AAC Connect have gained widespread acceptance in China’s malting and brewing sector, with CDC Fraser not far behind. CDC Churchill is one of Canada’s newest malting barley varieties. In 2023, the CMBTC co-ordinated a shipment of 800 tonnes to China for commercial production trials.
To reap the benefits of new malting barley genetics across the value chain, it is critical to accelerate the acceptance of new varieties. These commercial production trial initiatives have been key to gaining acceptance by Canada’s international customers.
Peter Watts is the CMBTC managing director.