AUSTRALIAN maltsters gave a unique insight into their industry at last week's Grain Industry Association of WA (GIWA) Barley Rationalisation Meeting, including what current varieties they were finding the best to work with.
One of those to speak was Cargill Malt regional merchandising manager Simon Robertson who told grain industry stakeholders in attendance that Cargill had five plants in Australia and used 500,000 tonnes of barley a year, with its Forrestfield facility the company's main plant.
"Ninety eight per cent of what Cargill Malt in Australia does is make malt for export markets," Mr Robertson said.
He said Bass remained a variety that Cargill was heavily reliant on, particularly in its Perth plant.
"It is a very good variety to work with and being a non-Gibberellic Acid variety it is a key variety for us in a market like Vietnam," he said.
"We would probably throw the Flinders variety in there as well, that is up there with Bass in terms of malting characteristics.
"We have been fortunate in the past couple of years where there has been soft finishes and good barley crops, so all varieties have performed really well.
"If WA had a completely different, harder finish then that is where Bass and Flinders become even more important to us."
Mr Robertson said they also used La Trobe, which goes to the Shochu market and was a variety that could be taken to Japan and Korea, particularly with the IMI issue being in play.
Planet was also a variety that was coming on stream and Mr Robertson said customers did like Planet as a variety.
"It has good extraction rates and it is well known as it is an international variety," he said.
"We are yet to see big volumes of Planet come through our plant but we are expecting that to change."
In terms of the IMI issue and the Scope and Spartacus varieties, Mr Robertson said certain markets would still take Scope.
"Cargill understands the agronomic benefits of Scope and we can use it and some of the markets we supply to have no problem with Scope," he said.
"It is really difficult to understand the Maximum Residue Limits (MRLs) of some countries and trying to find them can be difficult at times.
"Some countries are very clear on what the requirements and others aren't.
"I think with Spartacus it is not really a malting issue, it is potentially more of an issue for the feed market.
"Japan is an important market for feed and malt and 600,000-700,000t of barley goes into Japan and clearly it has no MRL.
"In terms of malting, we are variety specific so we can control the IMI issue better than the feed market.
"We can take Spartacus to a market that we are comfortable with using it, but we are not going to send it to Japan or Korea.
"We feel we can take it to other markets as long as it is within the Australian MRL.
"I wouldn't say as a maltster that just because it has been treated with the chemical it can no longer meet malt specs."
Mr Robertson also addressed the heightened awareness around glyphosate and said customers were asking about glyphosate use.
"We can take a lot of comfort at the moment that we can say there is no glyphosate in malting barley in Australia, but there is a lot of press around glyphosate at the moment and that will need to be continually monitored," he said.
Mr Robertson said sustainability was also being demanded by their customers.
"We are clearer now about what our sustainability goals are," he said.
"We are increasingly only going to buy malting barley that is basically accredited under a sustainability quality assurance program.
"Cargill is part of a global platform that is a pretty straightforward program that involves a farmer self assessment, and based on that assessment they get a score and an accreditation.
"Our customers are increasingly requesting that we supply them with sustainable barley, they are not very prescriptive in how we are meant to do that, but what they are saying is 'We are growing brands and have a social license - so what are you doing in a sustainability space?'."
In terms of beer markets and what the trends were, Mr Robertson focused on the Asia Pacific region (APAC).
"The APAC market, through sheer weight of population, is the largest market for the consumption of beer," he said.
"On a per capita basis they don't actually drink that much beer so there is still scope for growth on that basis.
"In broad terms the APAC region imports about two million tonnes of malt a year and half of that would be European malt, a quarter would be Australian malt and another quarter would be from China.
"China and Japan are the largest in terms of consumption of beer, but since 2012 those markets have been declining from a consumption stand point due to price increases - that is attributed to an increase in the cost of production and an increased sales cost.
"Japan has also changed its tax arrangement around malt and has had some seasonal influences which have had an impact also.
"Despite this decrease in consumption, from a valuation view point the malt inclusion rate is starting to tick up a bit.
"This is because they are drinking more premium beers that require more malt."
Mr Robertson said markets such as South East Asia, the Philippines and Vietnam were going gangbusters.
"Changing lifestyles and social influences is partly driving that," he said.
"There has also been an increase in premium or craft beer consumption in these countries and there are many different types of beers being consumed.
"Younger women in Asia, for example, are liking lighter style beers."
Mr Robertson said over the next five years it was forecast that the decline in consumption in China and Japan would stabilise and the massive increases experienced in Vietnam and India would taper off slightly.
"Indonesia will potentially grow from a low base now that the free trade agreement has been signed," he said.