The Growers’ Year 2020: Sowing

element: Barley / DATE: 23/04/2020

The old proverb of “March, in like a lion, out like a lamb” is fitting to describe the weather conditions during the sowing window for spring malting barley in 2020. Wet and cold weather in the first fifteen days of March prevented any ploughing, cultivation or sowing from taking place in the fields. However, no rainfall events in Leinster after St. Patricks Day, combined with higher than average levels sunshine and cold winds, enabled sowing to commence from March 22nd. First out of the blocks to sow this spring for Waterford were growers Barry Ashmore and John Tynan. No rainfall for the remaining nine days in March enabled tremendous progress to be made and all the conventional barley fields for the distillery to be sown by April 1st. This is, by far, the most condensed sowing period relative to the five previous seasons. 

Hook sowing
Martin Foley, Hook Head

Martin Foley, Hook Head

Whilst late February to early March sowing dates – as experienced in 2019 – are generally considered optimum for the production of distilling malting barley, mid to late March sowing dates can still produce good results if weather conditions are favourable in the following months of April, May and June.

The organic and biodynamic malting barley growers also made excellent progress sowing this spring and all of this barley was sown by April 11th – which is 7-14 days earlier than normal. 

As of the third week of April, malting barley crops have emerged very well and generally have between 1 – 4 true leaves. The dry weather we are currently experiencing in April is starting to slow crop growth a little, and many crops could do with 10-15mm of rainfall, especially those in south Kildare and Carlow. As is normal, Co. Wexford has received more rain in April and especially the southern-most parts, so crop growth is less affected here.

Phil O Brien
Phil O Brien in a tractor

Phil O’Brien, Sheestown


The spring malting barley variety this year is predominately Laureate, which has been utilised by Minch Malt and Waterford Distillery since 2017. Additionally, there are three conventional farms of Prospect following on from a satisfactory performance in 2019. The organic and biodynamic barley is also the Prospect variety. 

Finally there is also a new trial barley variety being grown in 2020: Tungsten, bred by Syngenta Seeds (see picture below).  This barley variety is a cross of Planet x Ovation, which has shown high grain yield potential in field trials and also high levels of soluble extract and alcohol yields. 

We will await the grain yield and malt quality results later in 2020, however, the performance of Tungsten in the distillery will be likely not be known until 2021. 

– Dr Max Potterton, Minch Malt.

Tungsten growing away nicely on Barry Ashmore’s farm near Mageney in Co. Kildare

Tungsten growing on Barry Ashmore’s farm, near Mageney in Co. Kildare