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Written by James Dunne, Minch Malt Agronomist.
January 17, 2023 | editorial | 10 minute read

“A good farmer is a craftsman of the highest order, a kind of artist.”Or so the saying goes, while the expression is probably a cliché, it is certainly appropriate to describe the farming practices required to deliver the Commercial, Organic, Biodynamic and Heritage malting barley for Waterford Distillery.

Sowing Date


The date that a crop is sown is a key management factor that growers can use to exert some but not total control over the final protein concentration in spring malting crops. In most instances, barley crops that are sown earlier in the season generally results in grain with a lower protein concentration and larger starch granules, spring malting barley should therefore be ideally established before the end of March.

The artisans amongst the Waterford Distillery growers manage to take advantage of the excellent late autumn weather in 2021 enabling some spring barley varieties to be established in November. The months of December and January were mild with frost occurring on very few days, this ensured that these crops emerged from the winter in exceptionally good order.

Amongst the 16 batches assembled for Waterford Distillery in 2022: 5 were conventional, 1planted in November, 3 March and only 1 in April. The 5 organic, 2 biodynamic and 3 heritage batches were established in late March and early April, which is ahead of the normal planting period.

Weather Conditions


However, earlier sowing of barley can only account for so much and the weather conditions afterwards still play a crucial role in determining the final quality outcome for the barley crop. Fortunately the early to mid- season weather conditions were just favourable, with some concern for drought stress, nevertheless unimpeded crop growth and development occurred. April was a mild month with above average temperatures and rainfall which enabled the crops to take up the applied fertiliser nitrogen from the soil and produce high tiller numbers.

May was a cool, dry month across the midlands and south east of Ireland. Low rainfall levels in the Carlow area did provide some initial cause of for concern, however, the dense crop canopies established in April held onto any moisture provided by the infrequent rain showers. June and July were cool and wet, interspersed with a few sunny days here and there, a pretty typical Irish summer, not barbeque weather by any means , but pretty ideal for producing high quality distilling malting barley. The cool summer temperatures facilitated a prolonged grain fill period enabling the development of large, bold grains with large starch granules.

August proved to be a dry, with no rainfall from the beginning to the end of the harvest. This proved to be the best harvesting conditions since the early 1980’s with very low grain moistures, high bushel weights and moderate grain protein levels.

Grain Yields


The climate of Ireland frequently enables the production of some the highest spring barley yields in the world. On the basis of the grain yields achieved in the 2022 harvest this status is unlikely to change anytime soon! The late autumn sown Laureate crops yielded especially well, producing yields in excess of 10t/ha.

The remaining March and early April sown crops were slightly lower but equally satisfactory with yields in the 9-10t/ha bracket. Harvest ’21 had average grain yield of 7.5 -8t/Ha commonplace and ’22 being even higher clearly illustrates the effect that positive seasonal weather conditions can have on the production of cereal crops like malting barley.

Grain Quality


The quality of the barley selected from the 16 individual farms for Waterford Distillery in 2022 is exceptionally good. This is perhaps best illustrated through a comparison of the average KPH measurements of the 2021 and 2022 Waterford Distillery barley batches. For 2021 the average KPH was in the mid 60’s, whilst for 2022 the overall average KPH is in the high 60’s with a range from 67-71. Screening levels or the % of small grains in a sample were also low, this is again a product of the good grain filling conditions

Organic and Biodynamic


The organic and biodynamic barley had an excellent growing year, as these crops can scavenge for moisture more readily than the modern varieties and commercial monoculture practices. The low levels of rainfall in the months of June and July resulted in little competition from weed growth. Average protein concentration in the 5 organic, 2 biodynamic and 3 heritage batches is higher than the conventionally grown barley.



In a similar review piece last year, the hope that the 2022 season would mimic by in large the 2021 season, with normal planting and growth pattern. It is therefore with a sense of relief but also excitement to report that 2022 harvest has surpassed all expectations and produced a malting barley crop of superb quality.

Whilst this is undoubtedly due to a favourable growing season, the expertise and attention to detail applied by both the Minch Malt agronomists and Waterford Distillery growers also played a key role in the success of crop 202. “Let us not forget that the cultivation of the earth is the most important labour of man. When tillage begins, other arts follow.”

Written by James Dunne. Minch Malt Agronomist.

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