Importance of nitrogen in achieving spring barley malting specifications

Spring Barley

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

Planting date is driven by that fine 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:

  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.
  • FAIRING is the only approved grain distilling variety in the UK and will have high N contracts in different regions of Scotland, check locally for these contracts.
  • SY TENNYSON joined the latest AHDB Recommended List last autumn, 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 it has very promising quality for both the malt distilling and brewing markets.

Local contracts for the malting varieties will specify the % grain nitrogen required along with other criteria such as screenings and specific weight.  Some varieties 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, malt distilling requires grain N below 1.65%, while growers of grain distilling varieties are typically aiming much higher with a target grain N over 1.85%.

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 for both rates and timings will help to achieve the required 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.
  • 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.  Establishment and nitrogen timings 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!