Concerto Spring Barley: The end of an era

As we head towards the 2020 spring barley harvest, we’re approaching what is likely to be the end of an era for fully-approved brewing and distilling variety Concerto, a true stalwart of the AHDB Recommended List.

It was introduced to the AHDB Recommended List way back in 2009 and, due to its good agronomic attributes and dual use market opportunities, it secured its position on-farm with growers and quickly became the ‘benchmark variety’ for the malting and distilling industry, producing high yields of malting quality grain.

At its height, Concerto accounted for more than 50% of all malting barley purchased in the UK. A contributing factor to that was the lack of alternatives during the early 2010s and, in recent years, with the emergence of some newer varieties, Concerto’s market share has started to decline.

Concerto had accounted for 40.1% of all malting barley purchased from the 2017 crop but fell to 21.7% of purchases from the 2018 crop. It was still 17% of the Scottish malting barley purchases ex-harvest in 2019 but, just to show how it’s fallen, it’s only 0.6% of the certified seed market in Scotland this year.

Growers, as well as maltsters, know that Concerto produces very well but, unfortunately, the agronomics now are so far off the pace and, eventually, it does catch up with them. It has 93% of yield in the North Region, whereas Laureate is 104% and some of the newer varieties are 107%. When it gets to that level of difference, it really starts to make an impact.

At Simpsons Malt, we have a small amount coming in this harvest but, going beyond that, it will be extremely limited as, in addition to the vast reduction in its percentage of the certified seed market in Scotland this year, there’s not one single field of Concerto multiplication seed currently in the UK other than a high grade one with Limagrain.

So sadly, it is the end of the road for Concerto – but it’s been a fantastic variety and will probably continue to be from a breeding perspective moving forward.

Where to now?

Well, Laureate, with a yield of 104%, has the greatest market share and is fully-approved for both brewing and distilling – the only other variety on the Recommended List that has this dual purpose.

LG Diablo has full approval for distilling but is having a few hiccups getting over the line for approval for brewing. There have been further trials this year and a decision was deferred at the Malting Barley Committee Meeting in May because there weren’t enough positive results to see it over the line.

It has thick straw and big, bold grains, helping to deliver a yield of 107% and, if it gets its approval for brewing at a review in November, then having this dual purpose would be a huge boost as it helps to give growers peace of mind when it comes to drilling it.

There’s also KWS Sassy (103% yield) and Sienna (102% yield), which are fully-approved distilling only varieties, as well as RGT Planet (104% yield) and Propino (98%), with the latter – much like Concerto – reaching the end having been on the AHDB Recommended List since 2010.

There is promise further down the ‘Stairway to Heaven’ though, with SY Tungsten under test for MBC approval in both brewing and distilling, with trials showing yields of 107%. Firefoxx, which is under test for MBC approval for distilling only, is also showing promise in trials with yield also at 107%.

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