Importance of nitrogen in achieving spring barley malting specifications

Spring Barley

This article is specifically aimed at Spring Barley growers in England.

The dry conditions in the last couple of months has resulted in spring barley being drilled in the East of England in early February, with some reports of January planting dates. The uncertainty about the direction of weather over the next few weeks could, however see this pace slowing.

Whatever the drilling date of your spring barley crops, it’s worth keeping in mind the risks associated with both early and late drilled crops.  Knowing these risks, the susceptibilities of different varieties, along with monitoring throughout the season, can help prioritisation.

  • Earlier drilled spring barley is exposed to disease inoculum for longer and so has an increased risk of Rhynchosporium and brown rust. 
  • Late drilled spring barley has a greater risk of lodging and higher potential for BYDV infection. 

Planting date is driven by a balance of having enough soil moisture for growth, but dry enough to travel and establish a good seedbed.  Often the first split of bagged nitrogen is added at or just after drilling, and again, good uptake is dependent on having the right level of soil moisture.

Different varieties are suitable for different end uses; the majority of spring barleys grown for malting in the UK are listed on the MAGB Malting Barley Committee Approved List:

Malting Barley Committee Approved List - Harvest 2023

  Winter Varieties for Brewing Use Spring Varieties for Brewing Use Spring Varieties for Malt Distilling Use Spring Varieties for Grain Distilling Use
Full Approval





RGT Planet

LG Diablo


KWS Sassy

LG Diablo


Provisional Approval 2   Skyway    
Provisional Approval 1        

However, locally, different maltsters will have preferred varieties and contracts, so it is important to check locally to ensure variety selection is suitable for your local maltster.

  • LAUREATE, has full MBC approval for brewing and malt distilling and is widely accepted across England and Scotland. Its consistent performance both on-farm and with end-users makes it the malting variety of choice.
  • SY TENNYSON joined the latest AHDB Recommended List last autumn in an unrivalled yield position becoming the highest yielding variety with potential for both the brewing and malt distilling markets. SY TENNYSON continues to be tested through the MBC process to gain approval, but we can already see its very promising quality for both the brewing and malt distilling markets, including the highest Hot Water Extract figure on the AHDB Recommended List.
  • SY SIGNET is a very high yielding spring malting barley under test for brewing with strong farmer focused agronomics and the potential for export. As with SY TENNYSON, we can see SY SIGNET demonstrating its yield consistency across differing seasons in both treated and untreated conditions. SY SIGNET also has exceptional Hot Water Extract, second only to SY TENNYSON on the 2023 AHDB Recommended List.
  • While originally being bred for the malting sector, SY SPLENDOR is now a feed variety. However, it continues to offer useful features for the feed barley grower including consistent yields, excellent grain quality and stiff straw.

Local contracts for the malting varieties will specify the % grain nitrogen required along with other criteria such as screenings and specific weight.  Some varieties such as LAUREATE can be used for multiple markets, so getting the nitrogen right is key to gaining premiums for malting barley.

It is essential to know the grain specifications you are aiming for and the exact requirements of your maltster.

As a rule of thumb, domestic brewing markets require 1.6-1.75% grain N, while malt distilling requires grain N below 1.65%.

However, it is important to note these different market requirements can vary so always check locally with your intended maltster or your growing contract, if you have one.

Tailoring nitrogen inputs in both rates and timings will help to achieve the require specification.

  • Low nitrogen contracts below 1.65%: Lower total N required, Syngenta trials found no significant difference in yield or % grain nitrogen between applying 100% in the seedbed or in 2 splits, applied before GS15.
  • UK domestic brewing contracts between approximately 1.6 and 1.75%: Follow RB209 guidance on splits and timings. 2 splits may increase grain N content in certain situations and seasons.
  • High nitrogen contracts above 1.85%:  Syngenta trials showed increasing total nitrogen has the biggest impact on grain nitrogen, but a later application can also help to boost it.

It is important to adapt to the crop as the season progresses.  Drill dates, establishment and nitrogen applications will directly impact management of the crop canopy later in the year.  PGRs and fungicides will all need to be tailored to the season to keep the crop healthy and standing, more on this in our next instalment.

Always consult a qualified FACTS advisor when calculating nitrogen rates and timings, taking into consideration end market requirements and the fertility of the field. You must also work within any Government guidelines/restrictions.

To read more about Syngenta's spring barley varieties, click HERE!