Malting plant a boon for local barley industry

Haidee VandenbergheCountryman

WA now boasts the nation’s only pilot malting plant, in what is a major boon to both beer drinkers and farmers.

The $500,000 plant, housed at Edith Cowan University, is a joint venture between the university and the Department of Agriculture and Food (DAFWA) and was opened last week by WA Agriculture Minister Terry Redman.

Remarking it was one of the few times he could address a function with a beer in hand, Mr Redman said the new malting facility was designed to simulate commercial malting on a smaller scale.

But the significance of the pilot malting plant is not just about developing a good drop, it is an important tool in developing new varieties and improving the State’s foothold on the export barley market.

In conjunction with Edith Cowan University senior brewing lecturer Hugh Dunn, DAFWA senior research officer Allen Tarr has played a major part in securing the pilot malting plant.

He said barley growers would see the benefits of the plant not only in their beers, but also in faster availability of new malting barley varieties.

“After lines come through our breeding program, they have to be accredited to be of a standard that can be malted,” he said.

“That is fairly expensive because you have to bulk up a large amount of seed — up to 600 tonnes — to put through a commercial plant in order to get accreditation.

“This plant enables us to simulate what happens in a commercial plant, but only uses a 100kg sample of grain.”

This will allow barley breeders to determine which varieties will be viable at a much earlier stage than was previously possible. And, importantly, it could give WA an advantage in the competitive international malting barley market.

“A lot of our grain is exported and goes into China, for example,” Mr Tarr said.

“When a new variety comes out, the buyer wants to know how it performs in their brewhouse.

“It’s very difficult for us to get big quantities of grain to send to customers in China to evaluate – you would have to bulk up a lot more grain.”

Mr Tarr said the new pilot malting plant would be able to provide buyers with a malt sample that was malted under their conditions here in WA.

“If it is what they like, then they will have a better understanding of that variety,” he said.

“And when it is in the market place, they can use it with confidence.”

The pilot plant has already processed two batches of barley and in the next six months currently-grown malting varieties will be malted to validate the process.

New lines of malting barley will be put through when validation is completed.

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