COLLABORATION BETWEEN researchers and all sectors of the malting barley industry, from farmgate to the final brew, is helping the industry recover its position as a quality producer.
In the early 1990s Australia's market share in key, quality-conscious malting barley markets was eroded by new varieties from North America and Europe.
In response, the industry, including maltsters and barley marketers, linked up with researchers and in 1992 established the Malting Barley Quality Improvement Program, a consortium involving the University of Adelaide, the SA Research and Development Institute, the Victorian Department of Natural Resources and Environment, maltsters, brewers, ABB Ltd and the GRDC.
The result, according to former chairman of the program, Gordon Allan of Joe White Mailings, has been a number of new varieties which are slowly clawing back the gap in quality.
Allan says the outlook is now extremely bright. "By putting in that infrastructure we have brought a lot more people from industry to the party. Everyone realises that it is an Australian industry and the major competitors are not within Australia, they are in Europe and North America."
All parts of the industry benefit if we can create a perception in the overseas market that we are good at what we do, Allan says.
"It's galvanised the separate breeding programs, making them work more as a unit. It also allows the breeders to understand more effectively the market conditions in which the maltsters operate."
Although market requirements change over time, Allan says the aim of the program is basically to get better quality parameters.
"From the farmers' point of view, you want good yield and good disease resistance, and from the maltsters' point of view we want good quality or otherwise we won't sell."
And from the plant breeders' point of view, the improved market intelligence and feedback provided by industry is invaluable. Part of the funding provided to the program is being used to speed up the release of new varieties, reducing release time from more than 14 years to less than 10 years.
"All the partners contribute, discussing the direction of the research and contributing market intelligence as to how they see future industry requirements," says Dr Andrew Barr, head of the breeding program at the University of Adelaide.
Allan adds: "It's a very large successful cooperative venture into producing high quality germplasm. We feed market intelligence into the breeding program so the breeders realise where the benchmarks are and what they have got to do to at least compete with those European and North American lines and hopefully exceed them in terms of quality."