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Drought threatens Britain’s pubs and brewers

By Luke Nicholls , 30-Mar-2012

The UK pub industry is facing a potential rise in beer prices as the drought across the south of England is likely to cause a shortage of barley and hops.

According to research from Farmers Weekly, last year’s drought had a ‘major impact’ for 32 per cent of farmers and, with less rain set for 2012, we are likely to see a further reduction in yield and problems with nitrogen content, threatening it’s use in brewing.

As Jerry Dyson, raw materials manager at Molson Coors, explained: “Weather conditions always play a major role in both the availability and the quality of malting barley and this was brought into sharp focus most recently with the winter malting barley crop of 2011.

“The very dry spring meant that the winter barley crop had a very high nitrogen level, which significantly reduced its value for brewing.”

National Farmers Union chief arable adviser Guy Gagen added: “Winter barley has traditionally been seen as a crop tolerant of summer drought as it ripens from early summer. With another dry winter crops are at risk again. Farmers can and will take steps in an effort to cope, but there is much more that could be done with more co-ordination at the centre.”

Profound impact

The research also revealed that two thirds of Britain’s arable farmers have been affected by less rainfall and of those to have noticed a change, 94 per cent said it had impacted on yields, with 40 per cent saying the impact has been ‘very profound’

Seventeen per cent of barley farmers are planning on cutting their planting of the crop over the next five years, which puts at risk over 96,000 hectares of malting barley fields.

The British Beer & Pub Association (BBPA) has voiced its concerns about the potential damage that could be caused from the price rise of crops.

“The drought will put pressure on beer prices, as British barley is a key natural ingredient for our beer — and we need top-quality barley for brewing,” said a BBPA spokesman.

Buying ahead

“It is difficult to quantify the impact at this stage — to some extent the brewers are partially protected by factors such as long-term fixed contracts and also buying ahead on the futures market.

“There will be pressures in the cost base, but we estimate that raw materials are anywhere between 3 and 10 per cent of the price of beer.”

The bad news comes following to last week’s Budget, which revealed that the price of a pint will rise between 6p and 10p , and the Government’s confirmation that it is to introduce a minimum price for alcohol .

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