Boutique malting trials by Denys Slee

Norman and David Crawford in their crop of WI 2875 uniform malting trials maltsters want to compare like with like.

Some people test bombs, others cars, but not the Crawford brothers. These two young farmers on the Sandergrove Plains 70 km east of Adelaide are paddock-scale testers for potential new malting barley varieties.

This year, for instance, they are growing the Waite Institute bred line WI 2875 in a paddock alongside the staple Schooner variety. Both crops will be harvested in a couple of months, and kept in storage on the farm until the Australian Barley Board is ready to take delivery of the grain for malting tests.

David and Norman Crawford are among seven growers in SA contracted with the ABB to produce 50-tonne lots of specified lines and varieties.

WI 2875 has come from the Barley Improvement Program funded by GRDC. It was sown in early June on a sandy loam with underlying clay and was given 110 kg/ha of 19:13 fertiliser at seeding.

The same soil type and fertiliser application applies to the Schooner crop next door. When it comes to testing the respective grain qualities, the maltsters will be comparing like with like - and they will have sufficient tonnages to make meaningful judgements on whether WI 2875 should be released for broad-scale production.

Father of David and Norman, the late Jack Crawford, began the association with the ABB in 1989 on the family's 2,429 ha 'Fordvale' property where cereals, grain legumes, sheep and cattle are the dominant enterprises.

Unlike much of SA, this is good malting barley-growing country, blessed with reasonably reliable rainfall and a cool growing season longer than in most districts.

Early-sowing and malting quality

The Crawfords like to get their barley seeding underway by early to mid-June so that the crop has about six months to grow and ripen. "The earlier you can sow, the more likely you are to get malting," the brothers say.

So what is the best malting variety around?

Currently, the Crawfords rank varieties as follows:

  • Top - Franklin. It itches during reaping and it produces more screenings than other varieties but it has never failed to go malting on the Crawford farm. For the best results it needs a growing season 2-3 weeks longer than Schooner and it has to be planted on the best soils available.
  • Then follow:

  • Schooner - easy to grow and nice to handle, generally makes malting and is suited to a wide range of soil types;
  • WI 2875 (if it's released) - they are impressed with its early growth bu query whether its fairly tall growth habit might mean that it could run out of moisture in dry conditions;
  • Arapiles - a really vigorous Victorian variety with the potential to do well in the district but has shown a tendency to lodge and is "bloody itchy" to reap;
  • and Chebec (bred to be malting but now classified as a feed variety) - "It can shake a bit but it's nice to reap and loves the sandy, lighter ground," the Crawford brothers say. "Because of its cereal cyst nematode resistance, it fits nicely into a rotation where you have grassy pastures."