Agri Business

SABMiller plans 100% barley sourcing from farmers in five years

Harish Damodaran Alwar (Rajasthan) | Updated on February 16, 2011

Barley farmers waiting for customers at the wholesale Grain Mandi Najafgarh in New Delhi (file photo): Shiv Kumar Pushpakar   -  Business Line

SABMiller India plans to procure malt barley requirements for its breweries directly from farmers in the next five years.

The Indian subsidiary of the $26-billion London-based beer major – owner of brands such as Foster's, Haywards 5000 and Knock Out – consumed around 75,000 tonnes of barley last year. Of this, 18,000 tonnes were sourced from farmers and 3,000 tonnes from traders. The balance 54,000 tonnes were bought – in direct malt form – from domestic malters, including Barmalt India and The Malt Company India Pvt Ltd.

“With sale volumes growing by 14-15 per cent annually, our barley requirement will double to 150,000 tonnes in the next five years, which we intend meeting 100 per cent through direct farmer purchases. In the current year itself, we are targeting 30,000 tonnes from this route,” Mr Sundeep Kumar, Director (Corporate Affairs) of SABMiller India, said at a company-organised media field visit here.

SABMiller operates 15 ‘Saanjhi Unnati' barley purchase centres in Rajasthan alone. These procured 15,500 tonnes from over 5,600 farmers in a 22,500-acre catchment during 2010. Another 2,500 tonnes was bought from 650 farmers cultivating 2,500 acres in Punjab, Haryana and Uttarakhand.

“We are not engaging in any contract farming. Our centres basically provide certified seeds for farmers to plant and they are under no contract to sell back the barley to us. We undertake to buy all their grain though, provided it meets our minimum quality parameters. And since we pay slightly more than the mandi rate, they have an incentive to supply to us,” claimed Mr Kumar.

The certified seeds being made available are largely public-bred varieties of the Rajasthan Agricultural University (RD-2503, RD-2508, RD-2552, RD-2715 and RD-2660) and Chandra Shekhar Azad University of Agriculture at Kanpur (K-551).

India produces 1.5-1.6 million tonnes (mt) of barley, of which hardly 0.35 mt is used by brewers. The bulk goes as feed and fodder for animals. The absence of an organised market means that not even 10 per cent of the seeds used by farmers are certified.

“You need to first induce them to sow pure seeds, which give grain of uniform size and character. We, therefore, procure these in bulk from the State Farms Corporation of India and distribute it at about Rs 15 a kg, as against the Government's own rate of Rs 20,” said Mr Nawlendu Ranjan, who heads SABMiller India's Barley Development Programme.

Beer-makers use barley to first produce malt. The process involves soaking the grain in water and allowing it to germinate, so as to convert the barley starch into sugar (maltose). The germinated grain is further kiln-dried, with the resultant malt – 80 tonnes from every 100 tonnes of barley – being fermented into alcohol by adding yeast.

Malt versus Feed-grade

Barley for brewing purposes should ideally contain more starch and less protein, unlike the typical ‘six-row' feed-grade varieties grown in India. Six-row barleys – which have six grain rows on each spike (ear-head) – yield less bold kernel. A thousand grains weigh only 38-43 grams, compared with 46-58 grams in ‘two-row' varieties. Less starch also results in just 68-71 per cent beer extraction from six-row malted barleys, whereas it is 76-82 per cent for two-row malts.

“The Saanjhi Unnati programme has helped us increase our average extraction (as a percentage of malt) from 70 to 72. We hope to raise it further to 76 per cent-plus with expanded coverage of two-row barley varieties,” said Mr Ranjan.

The company last year promoted cultivation of RD-2668, a two-row variety, over 2,500 acres.

Interestingly, the first commercially successful indigenous two-row barley, DWRUB-52, was jointly developed by the UB Group with the Directorate of Wheat Research, Karnal. The terms of collaboration confer UB exclusive seed multiplication rights over a five-year period, which ends this year prior to the new planting season from November.

Published on February 16, 2011

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