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Cheers to the best malt barley growers

To meet the exacting standards of maltsters, brewers and consumers, malting barley growers need to follow exacting practices, from pre-seeding planning all the way to storage and marketing.


November 21, 2011
By Carolyn King

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To meet the exacting standards of maltsters, brewers and consumers, malting barley growers need to follow exacting practices, from pre-seeding planning all the way to storage and marketing. Elite Barley, the Canadian Malting Barley Grower Recognition Program, says ‘Cheers!’ to these growers and their best management practices. For 2010-11, this industry-led program has nominated 10 growers who consistently produce high-quality malting barley.

WTCM16-18harvest-DM  
Some fields at Land and Sky Grains have potholes and the crop usually stays a little greener around them. Sometimes the Maurers will swath these slower-maturing areas so they’re ready when the standing crop is ready for harvest. Photo by Danyka Maurer.


 

This year’s nominees include seven growers from Saskatchewan and three from Alberta. The seven Saskatchewan growers include Roger Begrand, St. Louis; Bob Copeland, Rosetown; Hewson Farm Corp., Langbank; Ironwheel Farms Inc., Shaunavon; Howard Linnell, Hafford; Ryan and Lauren Maurer, Grenfell; and Jeffery Wheaton, Biggar. The Alberta farms are Bork Farm, Chipman; Sunshine Hutterite Brethren, Hussar; and Verdant Hutterite Colony, Drumheller.

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WTCM16-18maurers-LSG  
Ryan and Lauren Maurer, 2010-11 nominees in the Elite Barley
program, with Takehiro Hoki, Sapporo Barley Fieldman and Chantelle
Donahue, Barley Supply Chain Manager, Prairie Malt. Photo courtesy of Land and Sky Grains Inc.


 

The Elite Barley 2011 Special Report describes the malting barley production practices of the 10 growers. Some of their key BMPs include: crop management planning, usually including soil testing; careful field selection, with a preference for canola stubble; a willingness to consider new varieties; using certified seed; seeding as early as possible; straight cutting whenever possible; using production contracts; careful storage with good aeration and monitoring of temperature and humidity; and ensuring representative samples.

The practices of the Maurers of Land and Sky Grains Inc. in southeast Saskatchewan are a great example of the expertise and special care that go toward successful malting barley production.

“We have grown malt barley on and off for the past 25 years, the last seven or eight years consistently. We like growing it because it is an excellent rotational crop. The premium of malt over the feed market also attracts our interest,” says Ryan Maurer.

The Maurers have a diverse crop rotation that helps control disease and weed pressures. He says, “Our crop rotation mainly consists of a cereal-oilseed-cereal-pulse. (We do include forages and spices, so it does change our rotation somewhat.) We usually put the barley in the rotation after the oilseed.”

They use Certified seed with a seed treatment to get the crop off to a good start, and they like to seed early. Maurer says, “We try to seed our malt barley early in the spring. It usually goes into the ground as soon as the field is fit to plant; this is sometimes later in the spring depending on the field chosen and field conditions.”

The Maurers use variable rate technology for herbicide applications to avoid problems like overapplication and spray drift. That helps them to reduce herbicide costs and be better stewards of the land. Although they would like to use variable rates for some of their other inputs, it’s not always possible. He says, “Due to the extreme wet conditions in southeast Saskatchewan in the past couple of years, we have not done variable rate seeding or fertilizer applications. It is hard to manage these systems with all the overlapping we deal with in these conditions. We do watch, however, that we shut off the fertilizer if there is major overlap.”

They’re careful with fertilizer rates to make sure the protein levels in their malting barley crops don’t exceed quality specifications. Maurer adds, “One challenge we have is to watch our fertility level if the field was recently in alfalfa, as those fields usually produce higher protein barley.”

The land at Land and Sky Grains offers some challenges for harvesting malting barley. Maurer explains: “Some of our fields have potholes and the crop usually stays somewhat greener around them. To deal with this issue, we will either straight combine the higher parts of the field and then come back later to finish the rest, or we will swath the areas that are slower maturing so that they are ready when the standing crop is ready to go. We usually have to make last-minute decisions based on the weather forecast for the near future.”

The Maurers’ post-harvest practices, like using aeration fans and temperature monitoring, ensure proper storage conditions. They take representative samples at harvest and use a comprehensive bin labelling system to ensure accuracy.

Production contracts are an important part of their malting barley production. Maurer notes, “About 85 percent of the time we grow our barley with production contracts. Some varieties and markets that we choose to participate in will only allow a producer to grow the crop if it is under contract. Having a good relationship with the malting company is probably as important as having a contract; it has to be a win-win for both parties or the relationship soon ends.”

This emphasis on meeting the needs of buyers and end users is integral to the overall approach at Land and Sky Grains, which includes production of Identity Preserved crops
.
Maurer says, “Most of our crops are grown for specific end markets/consumers. Our belief is that we must grow what the consumer wants; there is no point growing something that is not in demand. The production of Identity Preserved crops does require additional bookkeeping, cleaning of equipment/storage facilities and sometimes does restrict marketing options. This is usually offset with a premium to compensate us for our efforts. It is usually through these contracts that we can develop a relationship with the end user and gain a better understanding of challenges they face and how we can possibly make some changes to facilitate their needs.”


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