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Tuesday 25 July 2017

Grain growers call for more support from drinks industry

An employee passes American oak barrels containing Jameson whiskey, produced by Irish Distillers Ltd., at the Pernod-Ricard SA distillery in Midleton, Co Cork
An employee passes American oak barrels containing Jameson whiskey, produced by Irish Distillers Ltd., at the Pernod-Ricard SA distillery in Midleton, Co Cork
Claire Mc Cormack

Claire Mc Cormack

The Irish Grain Growers Association (IGGA) has called on Irish Distillers to increase its usage of Irish malting barley and to give greater support to the domestic cereals sector.

The call follows the announcement of a €10.5m investment by Irish Distillers at its Midleton plant in east Cork.

The expansion will enable Irish Distillers to increase its single-pot still Irish whiskey production capacity by over 30pc.

Irish whiskey is the fastest growing premium spirit globally, with the Irish Whiskey Association targeting a 300pc increase in sales by 2030 to 24 million cases annually.

However, cereal growers argue they are not reaping the benefits of this massive lift in sales, and point to the low prices paid for malting barley last year, and the significant usage of imported maize in the distilling process by Irish companies.

"Farmers welcome the expansion in the Irish whiskey sector but we believe that distillers could be far bigger buyers of Irish malting barley. Instead, they are using significant tonnages of imported maize as a substitute for Irish malting barley," an IGGA spokesman said.

"Growers had serious difficulties with barley rejected last year because of skinned grain, additional investment by distillers into research and developing new varieties could solve these problems," the IGGA claimed.

"Distillers want low-protein grain, but that will require growers to use less nitrogen, which obviously means lower yields. The only way we can do that is if we get a minimum price. We can't afford to take a hit on yield if we are only getting the €154-155/t we got last year," he added.


IFA National Grain Committee chairman Liam Dunne said that the continued expansion of Irish Distillers in Cork should translate into an increased requirement for Irish malting barley.

"The increase in whiskey production has translated into a significant rise in the demand for Irish malt and malting barley," said Mr Dunne.

"There has also been a major increase in imported maize used in the manufacturing process over recent years, bypassing the opportunity to expand the use of quality native malting barley.

"Another major limiting factor is the malting capacity on the island. Substantial investment is required to increase this.

"IFA is in discussions with key industry to explore the opportunity for expansion. A fundamental question for growers and the malting industry is the low level of returns given where current grain prices are," added Mr Dunne.

However, industry sources pointed out that the tonnage of malting barley used by brewers and distillers has almost doubled over the last eight years to over 190,000t.

"All our barley comes from farms located within 100 miles of Midleton Distillery, supporting families who have produced barley for centuries," said Paul Wickham, general manager of Midleton Distillery.

"At present, we spend €60m annually on cereals, energy, capital projects and payroll in the local economy and this will increase with the installation of these new stills."

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