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Barley farming in the UK

Barley is a grass with a swollen grain that is similar to wheat that can be ground to produce a flour suitable for the production of bread. However unlike wheat, barley has always been particularly important in the production of beers and ales. Barley is the second most widely grown arable crop in the UK with around 1.1 million hectares under cultivation and today's varieties trace their origins back over 10,000 years to the first farmers.


barley in may Barley has remained a successful cereal crop because of its short growing time and ability to survive in poor conditions. Although it is grown throughout most of the UK it is often the dominant arable crop in the north and west of Britain where growing conditions are most difficult and less favourable for wheat.


barley in june Each year the UK produces around 6.5 million tonnes of barley. Roughly 1.5 million tonnes are exported, 2 million tonnes are used in the brewing and distilling trades with 3 million tonnes being used for animal feed.


breezy day, barley waves Barley is striking because of the long spikes that emerge from the end of each grain. These are known as awns. Barley is also easily identifiable on breezy days in the early summer when "waves" blow through the crop.


harvest  time, grains with awns Although barley is versatile and tolerant it is not as productive as wheat. As a result it is often grown as the second cereal in a rotation where potential yields are lower; for example a field might first grow wheat, then barley, then a break crop like sugar beet or peas before returning to wheat. Barley can also be grown continually in the same field, a process known as continuous cropping. This was relatively common in the 1970s and 1980s but is rarely if ever practiced now.


harvest time Barley can be sown in either the autumn (this is known as winter barley) or in the spring. The proportion of each varies from year to year but is generally around 50:50. Winter barleys are higher yielding but of poorer quality and are mostly used in animal feeds whereas the spring varieties are often used for malting. The winter crop is normally harvested in July with those spring sown following about a month later.


a classic malt whisky Malting is a process of wetting the barley to encourage partial germination before drying in kilns. Malted barley is full of flavour and used by brewers and distillers in the production of beers and spirits as well as in a number of other food products. The specifications for malting are high and usually only usually achieved by the lower yielding spring varieties.


straw is an important output of the barley crop Barley for malting is exported around the world, often to countries like China that have developed the western taste for beer. Barley that is sold for malting typically attracts a premium of around £15 per tonne over the animal feed varieties.


rolled barley as stockfeed Around half of all the barley produced ends up as stock feed. This is either incorporated into compond rations or rolled on farm and fed to cattle as a supplement to their forage. The image illustrates farm rolled barley.




Further readingFurther reading for Barley - Production cycle






Statistics for Barley

Barley
2000
2001
2002
2003
2004
2005
2006
2007
2008
2009
2010
Barley - area
(000 hectares)
1128 1245 1101 1078 1010 938 881 898 1032 1143 921
Production area barley
(000 hectares)
1128 1245 1101 1078 1010 938 881 898 1032 1143 921
Production volume barley
(000 tonnes)
6492 6660 6128 6370 5815 5495 5239 5079 6144 6668 5252
Barley value incl area payments
(£ millions)
686 724 628 735 660 383 406 572 718 676 510
Yield - barley
(tonnes / hectare)
5.8 5.3 5.6 5.9 5.8 5.9 5.9 5.7 6.0 5.8 5.7
Price malting barley
(£ / tonne)
76 77 72 83 81 78 80 124 153 125 108
Price feed barley
(£ / tonne)
65 68 58 71 69 66 70 106 118 88 98
Total new supply barley
(000 tonnes)
4731 6077 5259 5361 5275 4782 4776 4706 5704 5929 4337
Total domestic use barley
(000 tonnes)
5357 5707 5787 5537 5429 4962 4970 4846 4938 5032 5314
Production as % UK use
(%)
137 110 117 119 110 115 110 108 108 112 121


June Census statistics for Barley


Barley
1900
1910
1920
1930
1940
1950
1960
1970
1980
1990
2000
Barley
(Hectares)
665,731 586,601 622,407 396,084 479,253 643,839 1,222,236 1,863,970 1,770,289 1,101,841 752,168