Beer-drinking trend causes headache

Farmers are getting a hangover over fewer people drinking beer.

As beer consumption falls, breweries require less malt and malting companies need less barley from farmers.

The change in Kiwis' drinking habits is being felt at the Marton malting factory of Malteurop NZ.

Operations manager Tiago Cabral said some barley growers were likely to feel the effect more than others.

"We will need less barley and will have to contract less tonnage from our growers," he said.

Surplus barley unable to be sold domestically could be marked for export. However, it would be going into an already aggressive global malt market.

"The main cost of malt production is the cost of barley, which means that with the cereal market as it is in New Zealand, we have little chance of finding new customers to fill in the spare capacity left by the reducing domestic market."

Malteurop NZ contracts 250 growers to supply 51,000 tonnes of barley. Globally, 2.2 million tonnes of barley is grown for the company.

The Marton plant can produce up to 42,000 tonnes of malt a year, with 82 per cent marked for several Kiwi breweries.

Contracts are offered annually to growers and the contract tonnage is variable, depending on how much land each farmer wants to commit.

Most of the barley comes from the Canterbury Plains. It is divided 63 per cent Canterbury, 25 per cent Rangitikei- Manawatu and 12 per cent from Hawke's Bay.

This regional split meant the risk of bad yields was minimised, which was what happened this year, said production manager Glen Simmonds.

"The barley yield from the North Island was really good.

"Yield from the South Island was looking great too until Canterbury was hit by bad weather, which greatly impacted on crops."

Simmonds said barley produced in the North Island was kept separate from the South Island barley as even the same variety produced in various areas would malt differently. Varieties were usually blended after the kilning process.

"Barley is a living organism which will react in different ways during the course of the year. The same applies for different barley varieties which will react in a different way during the malting process.

"Through daily controls and monitoring, we are constantly adjusting the recipes to be sure that we produce the best malt for our clients. It is our job to make sure we get the best out of each batch and the customer is not affected by the variations."

Simmonds said every batch of malt produced was tested and analysed to ensure high-quality malt. Malteurop had invested heavily in testing batches and recently bought a Skalar flow analyser from the Netherlands.

"We can analyse as many samples as we want, it really has no limit. We also keep samples of each batch, so if for instance the brewery has a bad batch of beer, the malt always gets blamed first, so we can go back and look at the sample," he said.

The Press