In recent years, the global brewing industry has increasingly focused on the environmental sustainability of beer. Many of the world’s largest breweries have set aggressive emissions reductions targets. This has been driven by a combination of jurisdictional regulations, corporate social responsibility goals and consumer demand. Much of the initial focus has been on manufacturing, packaging and transportation, but their initiatives increasingly encompass the entire supply chain including emissions associated with raw materials like barley malt.
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.
For the last five years, Canada has averaged third place among the world’s top malting barley and malt exporters. Across the globe, Canadian barley and malt are considered premium products. Naturally, the varietal purity of malting barley is a cornerstone of Canada’s value proposition for domestic and international maltsters and brewers.
From Aug. 10-12, the Canadian Malting Barley Technical Centre (CMBTC) and its members held the 2022 Western Canada Barley Crop Tour, the first time in three years the event has been held in person. Approximately 50 representatives from across the barley value chain gathered in central Saskatchewan. The group included maltsters and brewers, Canadian farmers and grain companies, as well as buyers of Canadian barley and malt from around the world. The tour included several beer industry representatives from Japan, one of Canada’s largest malt markets. Among them were technical and purchasing staff from Asahi and Sapporo Breweries.
The net result of combined low carry-in stocks, the severe drought of 2021 and record high prices for feed barley has been a supply crunch that has made it difficult for North American maltsters to source sufficient supplies. The available barley generally has quality challenges that include very high protein content and reduced germination caused by 2021 weather conditions. We now have greater perspective on how the malting and brewing industries are dealing with the challenges associated with the less-than-optimal crop.
Farmer Keith Woynorowski built the Hammer Malt facility and the entire malting system from scratch. He processes the farm’s own malting barley within silver, cylindrical dairy tanks repurposed as combination kilns and germination vessels. The malt is transported from one stage of processing to the next through pneumatic tubes and the entire system is computer automated. Far from being cobbled-together in appearance, the rig looks something like a homey space station.
The 2020/21 crop year was good for Canada’s barley industry. According to Statistics Canada, production hit 10.74 million tonnes, the highest level since 2008 when tonnage topped 11.78 million tonnes. The 2020/21 crop is also up 50 per cent from 7.11 million tonnes in 2014, a year that saw the lowest barley production in Canada since 1967.
As the newest malting barley varieties increase their individual shares of prairie acreage, Canadian Malting Barley Technical Centre (CMBTC) managing director Peter Watts says strong agronomic and end-use qualities will continue to drive their adoption.
Co-operation and collaboration are not new in the barley world, whether we’re talking about research and development, working to create and support markets for Canadian barley or dealing with collective market challenges. There are so many issues at play and many moving parts in today’s world of technological complexity, trade issues and regulatory challenges, never mind throwing in a global pandemic.