Barley initiative’s road to China

A new barley variety, Westminster, has become a case study for the shift towards global breeding collaborations able to speed up the delivery of improved varieties with stronger market appeal

The new barley variety Westminster has fast become the favourite of growers in Victoria’s Western District and Tasmania, ousting Gairdner, which had been the leading malting variety for more than a decade. It is a story of international connections and strong grower involvement in the process of identifying and commercialising a variety that meets both grower and market requirements.

GrainSearch is the company that brought Westminster to Australia and general manager Philip Jobling says while it was not performing well in New Zealand trials it quickly proved itself a standout in western Victoria. Based in Ballarat, GrainSearch was established by growers in 2002 with the sole aim of identifying new barley and wheat varieties from around the world suited to Australia’s high-rainfall zones. With Westminster GrainSearch believes it has struck gold.

The variety was developed in the UK and achieved malting accreditation in the UK and Europe in 2007. It was then included in the lines brought to Australia for testing during the 2007-08 season through GrainSearch’s partnership with PGG Wrightson Seeds in New Zealand.

For growers in Victoria’s Western District, higher yields and improved disease resistance made it an obvious replacement for Gairdner. Early testing by the grain industry’s malting partners also indicated Westminster had several highly favourable characteristics.

The maltster Barrett Burston conducted early micro-malting trials and liked what it saw. General manager of operations Paul Rigoni says he was confident from the early quality data that this variety would make malting status here: “It had very good malt extract levels and low beta-glucan content, which improves processability through the brewery.”

With good reports from the maltster and good results from the field trials, the grower-owned Southern Quality Produce Co-operative Ltd (SQP Co-op), which also owns 75 per cent of GrainSearch, was happy to promote the variety. It negotiated a segregation for Westminster for the 2012-13 season – even before it received malting accreditation – through its links with SQP Grain, which it part owns with Emerald Grain.

SQP Grain managing director Ben Fleay says the transition phase from one variety to another is a critical time for establishing confidence in a new variety among growers and traders. “We work closely with GrainSearch and SQP Co-op, and we knew there was a solid uptake of the Westminster, with many growers looking for a new variety after Gairdner.

“We needed to make sure there was adequate site and pricing support for growers at harvest. Without supply chain and pricing support the barley has to be delivered into the system as feed, or it gets stuck on-farm, and then growers are reluctant to plant that variety again the following season,” he says.

The decision to segregate paid off when Barley Australia granted Westminster malting status in February 2013; local and international buyers were already lining up.

SQP Grain and Emerald Grain were able to trade Westminster into both domestic and export markets. More than 50,000 tonnes of the 2012-13 crop was sold into China in 2013. This was achieved through Emerald Grain’s marketing connections with the Japanese trading house Sumitomo, then a joint shareholder of Emerald Grain and now sole owner (Figure 1).

Emerald Grain’s acting group general manager trading and marketing, Tom Howard, says the variety has brewing characteristics attractive to the Chinese market. Chinese beer is made with less malt than Australian and European beers, and is lighter and easier to drink.

Westminster has a lot of ‘oomph’. It has good ability to create alcohol through the fermenting process, something that is needed in the adjunct brewing common in Asian markets,” Mr Howard says.

From its proving ground in western Victoria, the variety is also showing good potential in other high-rainfall areas. It is now the only locally grown malting barley the Tasmanian brewers Cascade Brewery and Boag’s Brewery will accept.

Although not officially endorsed in other states, there are “sweet spots” in southern Western Australia and also on the Darling Downs in Queensland, where it has performed well in trials. There is potential in both these areas for niche growing zones with growers supplying local malting facilities.

Meanwhile, GrainSearch is continuing its work to find the next new varieties for growers in the high-rainfall zone, following the success of Westminster and also the dual-purpose wheat SQP Revenue.

“We trial up to 40 new lines of barley and a similar number of wheat lines each season,” Mr Jobling says. “Ideally, we want to release two to three new lines of barley and wheat in the next five years.” He says the overall aim is to provide the best possible combination of agronomic traits with sought-after market characteristics, which will ultimately maximise returns to growers.

Graphic showing Westminster barley's Australian path to success

Figure 1 Westminster barley's Australian path to success.

More information:

Philip Jobling, GrainSearch,

03 5329 2000,
phil@grainsearch.com.au

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