Controversial barley colour standard set to be dropped in time for the 2023-24 grain harvest

Headshot of Cally Dupe
Cally DupeCountryman
Barley ready to be harvested.
Camera IconBarley ready to be harvested. Credit: Cally Dupe/Countryman

WA farmers could collectively net hundreds of thousands of dollars more per year with a controversial standard for barley colour set to be ditched from the 2023-24 harvest.

The Grains Industry Association of WA’s latest review into grain standards revealed only major change — the long-awaited “removal of the standard for colour from the 2023-24 harvest”.

Colour is one of a range of specifications used to segregate malt and feed barley in WA, with malt commanding up to a $30 per tonne premium at times.

Two years ago, then-WAFarmers grains section president Mic Fels claimed the standard meant millions of dollars of quality WA barley was being downgraded and fed to animals.

Under the existing receival standards set by GIWA, barley with a colour grading below 55 at harvest is classed as feed while 56 was malt.

The rule meant good-quality grain – which met every other specification to be graded as higher-priced malt barley – was regularly being downgraded to feed simply because it was not bright or white enough.

GIWA reviews standards every few years, taking submissions from individuals, farm groups and businesses, and sets the receival standards in collaboration with industry.

During the most recent standards submissions period, which opened in March, submissions were received from Stirlings to Coast Farmers and an unnamed organisation, both calling for a change to the barley colour receival standard.

GIWA chair Lyndon Mickel, who farms at Beaumont, said the GIWA Receival Standards Review Committee subsequently reviewed data provided by grain handler and marketer CBH Group from the past five years.

The committee discovered the proportion of barley that failed to achieve MALT1 – the highest classification for malt – due to colour alone was “insignificant”.

It also found grain brightness was no longer a requirement for the vast majority of export and domestic malt barley contracts.

Mr Mickel said GIWA needed to provide adequate lead time for any existing barley contracts that might contain a colour specification, hence the delay.

GIWA executive officer Peter Nash and GIWA chair Lyndon Mickel. Ian Munro
Camera IconGIWA executive officer Peter Nash and GIWA chair Lyndon Mickel. Ian Munro Credit: Ian Munro/The West Australian

The colour standard for barley was originally designed to give WA barley growers with a market advantage in the Middle East and for brewing.

At the time, key malting and brewing customers of WA grain preferred bright kernels, as darker kernels sourced from non-Australian origin were often linked with poor storability, enhanced dormancy, risk of poor germination, and inferior brewing performance.

Mr Mickel, also the GIWA barley council chair, said receival standards were critical for customers, industry, and growers - but acknowledged debate about its need had been long-running.

“The validity of using colour as a receival standard for barley has been debated for many years and has been the subject of multiple submissions over the years,” he said.

“While many of our past customers preferred the aesthetics of bright kernels, there has been a gradual change with the vast majority of barley contracts now no longer containing colour as a contract specification.

“Rain at harvest can cause darkening of the kernel and cause affected barley to fail to meet MALT1 grade. This is a significant problem for growers, particularly those in higher rainfall areas.”

Mr Mickel said determining the impact of falling number, germ end staining, moisture and temperature for barley storability for malting purposes were a priority and the GIWA Barley Council would work with Grains Australia, Grain Trade Australia and the Grains Research and Development Corporation to secure funding to undertake this research.

Plans to potentially change the definition of foreign material in the lupin receival standard – unveiled in 2021 – were postponed after CBH was unable to analyse samples for the trial, with its laboratories at full capacity after the recent record harvest.

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