FOR the 2023-24 harvest, grain colour will be withdrawn from the Western Australian grain receival standards for barley, removing one of the parameters which can hinder growers in the high rainfall zones from reaching malt grade.
Grain colour is a measure of the whiteness of the kernel and was first introduced in WA to provide 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.
In March, the Grain Industry Association of WA (GIWA) Receival Standards Review Committee called for industry submissions on receival standards, with two entries both calling for a change to the barley colour (brightness) receival standard put forward.
GIWA chairman Lyndon Mickel said after reviewing barley receival data for all port zones for the past five seasons, the committee concluded there would be no changes to existing tolerances in the GIWA grain standards for this season, but the change would be implemented effective next year.
"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 to the GIWA receival standards committee over the years," Mr Mickel said.
"Rain at harvest can cause darkening of the kernel and cause affected barley to fail to meet MALT1 grade which is a significant problem for growers, particularly those in the higher rainfall areas.
"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."
Stirlings to Coast Farmers (SCF) was one of the two groups responsible for making a submission regarding barley colour earlier this year.
In the submission, the grower group recommended barley colour be removed as a grain quality parameter for malt barley deliveries in WA and suggested research be conducted to see if alternate tests could be used to determine malt quality in place of barley colour.
SCF executive officer Nathan Dovey said the group has made submissions regarding barley colour multiple times in the past, so it was reassuring to see the matter addressed and dealt with.
"We're a big barley growing region and being a high rainfall zone with a high potential for rain during harvest, colour affects us a lot and quite often is the only thing which stops us from making malt," Mr Dovey said.
"Colour could be associated with something like germ end stain, which has its own test, so if we can test for that separately, it's unnecessary to drop from malt to feed.
"Naturally our members have been rather aggrieved by that and wanted it removed, especially given colour was not a parameter anywhere else in Australia."
For farmers in the high rainfall zones, one of the key issues had been that if the colour wasn't what was required come harvest time, then growers would change the plan and start aiming for feed.
With that in mind, they would change the setting on the header, open up the sieves and as a result wouldn't produce as clean of a sample.
That meant potentially on paper there were other reasons than colour why that barley hadn't gone malt, but the farmer had turned away from trying in the first place and focused on getting every last grain instead.
During its investigation of the past five years of barley receivals, the GIWA committee determined the proportion of barley which had failed to achieve MALT1 due to colour (brightness) alone was insignificant as a percentage of total malt barley grade receivals.
Based on that, the committee resolved to drop colour entirely as a receival standard.
However in order to provide an adequate lead time for any existing barley contracts which may contain a colour specification to be executed, it was decided the change would not take place until next season.
Amelup grower Darren Moir, who is also chairman of the SCF Commodities Committee, sows about 20 per cent of his cropping program to Planet barley each year, with malt always being the goal.
He said there was such a small amount of grain which falls out of malt because of colour, but when it did it was incredibly frustrating.
"Often we know it's good quality malt barley, it just hasn't quite made that colour standard and the arguments around why that standard was there in the first place were a bit spurious," Mr Moir said.
"We feel colour has always been used more as a marketing tool which is fine, but that's disappeared in the modern era, so it's fantastic GIWA has done the numbers and decided it's no longer necessary.
"I'm confident in the knowledge that colour is not something we have to worry about anymore and when we get the delivery slip from CBH come harvest, we know it's not something which will cause us an issue."
CBH Group may continue to measure colour on delivery, however it will not form part of receival standards beyond this year's harvest.
"Currently, CBH does not foresee the removal of barley colour from the standards will cause any significant impact to WA growers for the 2023/24 harvest," said a spokeswoman for the co-operative.
"But we will review how the new standards will be implemented and will inform growers if there are changes."
Moving forward, research to accurately determine the impact of factors such as falling numbers, germ end staining, moisture and temperature on barley storability for malting purposes will remain a priority.
The GIWA Barley Council will work with Grains Australia, Grain Trade Australia and the Grains Research and Development Corporation to secure funding to undertake the necessary research.
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