Aiming for beer grade

November 01, 2017

Beer Baron: Grant Sims aims for high quality barley to chase extra cash from the breweries.

People working in the beer and malting industry across the world chatted with Grant Sims about how he grows his high quality barley.

The barley grown in Grant Sims’ paddock could end up brewed in beers across Australia, Asia and Europe.

The Pine Grove farmer spends a lot of time maintaining the standard of his roughly 600ha of barley to ensure the majority is up to scratch for the malt houses that pay top dollar for quality grain.

Once his barley is sold he usually has little idea of where it will end up, but last week Mr Sims got to meet the brewers and maltsters who rely on farmers like him to keep them in business.

The tour, which was organised by German-based independent advisory firm RMI Analytics, took beer brewers from around the world to some of the innovative farms and breweries in Australia.

But in order for Mr Sims’ barley to be considered by the bigwigs of the beer industry, he needs to ensure it makes the cut.

‘‘It has to go through a malt accreditation,’’ Mr Sims said.

‘‘It undergoes extensive testing for certain characteristics.’’

He said the barley’s protein level was tested and if it did not meet the quality required it would be sold as feed for cattle.

Although not all barley makes the grade, it pays to aim for brewing grade barley, as it can fetch about $30 to $50 extra per tonne.

Barley prices can fluctuate year on year depending on global events, which means that farmers like Mr Sims can never be quite sure of what price they will get when they are planning their crops.

Some farmers will take their barley out of their crop rotation after a drop in prices, but Mr Sims believes it is better to stay the course.

‘‘We don’t really chase the markets as much,’’ he said.

‘‘When prices are low people are going to plant less of it, so that means that potentially down the track prices will go up.’’

At the moment prices are quite high, and he can get about $240 a tonne for feed quality barley, compared to just $130 a tonne at last harvest.

‘‘It was a really good move to store it and hold on (at low prices),’’ he said.

‘‘Providing you’ve got good storage facilities it can be stored for a number of years.’’

RMI Analytics’ market insights and reporting manager Scott Casey said farm tours gave the beer industry a chance to see where they sourced their barley from.

‘‘(His barley) could end up in lagers and pilsener in Vietnam, it could go into China and it could be malted in Australia and sent to domestic brewers,’’ Mr Casey said.

Going forward, the beer industry faces a lot of uncertainty and that could affect the demand for barley from farmers like Mr Sims.

‘‘The amount of beer consumed is declining in all advanced markets,’’ Mr Casey said.

This was due to the popularity of other types of alcohol with millennials, such as wine.

But there were bright points for the industry in countries people might not expect to be consumers of beer.

‘‘Vietnam right now is the fastest growing beer market in the world, and Africa has a lot of growth, but from a much lower base,’’ he said.

Either way, he said the industry was fortunate to have farmers like Mr Sims putting in the time and effort for their barley.

‘‘It is very important (for the industry) that there are small and medium-sized farms growing barley on spec,’’ he said.

The tour continued across Victoria to see the next stages of the beer making process at the Malteurop malthouse and the Little Creatures Brewery in Geelong.

—Barclay White

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