Chinese brewers put their case for more protein

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In the past five years, China has emerged as Australia’s largest market for barley. In some years it buys more than the entire domestic market. But as the trade has grown, so too have Chinese brewers’ requests for higher levels of protein in Australian malting barley.

In response, the research from two diverse projects has come together to evaluate the significance of the protein issue and to offer some agronomic solutions for growers targeting the higher-value end of barley exports.

The Australian Export Grains Innovation Centre (AEGIC) is completing a report on its recent study of the Chinese malting barley market. Barley buyers and users were surveyed on which quality characteristics they most valued. Protein was one of the highest-valued attributes, says Roslyn Jettner, who is the leader of AEGIC’s market requirements and opportunities program.

Maltsters and brewers want malting barley with a protein content of 10.5 to 11.5 per cent, although a wider range of 10 to 12 per cent is acceptable. These levels are needed to achieve the fermentation, flavour and foaming characteristics of Chinese beers, which are produced using a different brewing process to that of Australian beers.

In Australia, nine to 12 per cent protein is the accepted range for malting barley in eastern Australian barley crops, or 9.5 to 12.5 per cent in Western Australia. The majority of export barley is produced in WA and South Australia. At the same time as AEGIC is completing its report, a senior research officer with the Department of Agriculture and Food, WA (DAFWA), Blakely Paynter, is preparing recommendations for growers who want to increase barley protein. These have been drawn from the results of 30 trials in WA targeting agronomic practices to address specific barley variety weaknesses, such as protein content, lodging and yield. “We’ve been able to pick out some management strategies that may influence grain protein, where low protein is a consistent problem, which could benefit export parcels of grain,” Mr Paynter, who was the 2015 Seed of Light winner, says.

The results indicate that applying nitrogen at stem elongation, rather than pre-sowing or at tillering, has the greatest influence on protein and could lift levels by 0.3 to 0.5 per cent, without affecting other factors such as lodging or yield.

“Once growers have calculated how much nitrogen a crop might need, we suggest applying at least two-thirds of that at stem elongation to boost protein, and even more would be better,” he says. He also recommends selecting high protein accumulating varieties with a plump grain, such as Flinders, Bass or Granger, as increased nitrogen can lead to more, smaller grains, potentially increasing screenings in other varieties.

Ms Jettner says the Chinese market has a major impact on returns for Australian barley growers. As such, growers would clearly benefit from preserving or increasing their share of this market. She says that delivering barley with the preferred protein content, and maintaining a quality and logistics advantage over competitors such as the EU and Ukraine, is an important step to securing this, and also to challenging the premium-paying segment dominated by Canada.

More information on barley response to nitrogen is available from Mr Paynter’s presentations at the February 2017 Perth GRDC Updates, available here

GRDC Research Codes AEG00006, DAW00224

More information:

Blakely Paynter, DAFWA,
08 9690 2115

Roslyn Jettner, AEGIC,
08 6168 9900