1st German 2023 Malting-Quality Barley Harvest Report
A preliminary assessment of the quantity and quality of the German 2023 malting-quality spring barley harvest suggests that it is the worst in recent decades.
Almost all weather-related conditions known to negatively impact crop yields and qualities occurred during the 2023 growing season. In addition, because of the unsatisfactory 2022 harvest, the current year started with a deficit in feed and energy stocks for the livestock and biogas industries. This pent-up demand led to a fully anticipated decline in acreage for spring barley cultivation. Unfavorable sowing conditions in the spring further reduced the acreage and exacerbated the shortfall, as many farmers had to reallocate fields that were initially intended for brewing barley cultivation. Therefore, this year’s crop acreage amounted to a mere 322,000 hectares. Even if growing conditions had been perfect, which they were not, this acreage would have yielded a smaller harvest volume than the previous year. Also, the acreage of spring barley sown in the fall increased again this year and reached some 45,000 hectares, some winter damage notwithstanding.
The wet and cold spring in 2023 was followed by six weeks of dry and hot conditions, during which the emergence and tillering of early-sown plants progressed well, while late-sown plants began to show stress symptoms. Thus, overall harvest results were mixed, with low crop densities and yields in some fields, as well as some premature ripening, below-average plumpness ratings, high protein values, and retarded developments during the grain filling phase.
Roughly half the spring barley grown in Germany could be harvested early this year, that is, before the end of July; but then the harvest had to be interrupted because of cool and rainy weather. While mature stocks were being siloed, others stayed on the stalk and became infected with a wide variety of microorganisms, which tend to develop very quickly under persistently warm and humid conditions. Lots that could be harvested only after the rainy period were often gray. Some had entered the senescence phase and many had a low germination rate. Nonetheless, because of the strained supply-and-demand balance this year, many of these problematic lots did enter the trade chain.
The heterogeneity of the German 2023 barley harvest is extreme, with both protein and plumpness values ranging from very low in some fields to very high in others. Therefore, averages mean almost nothing, even for individual regions; and the table in the attachment seeks to reflect this fact. This year’s total harvest volume of spring-sown spring barley is about 1.5 million metric tons (MT), of which an unusually low share of only about 780,000 MT is of brewing quality. However, because of quality concessions by the trade, which cannot be captured statistically, the actual quantity processed by maltsters is likely to be slightly higher.