Barley, the popular cereal grain, has been feeding mammals for years and years. Originating in Eurasia, where weather temperatures were suitable, barley, as a widely adaptable crop, was rumoured to be domesticated into agricultural living near the Nile River in Egypt and could have been one of the first alcoholic beverages made by Neolithic man. Primarily utilised in foods like soup and bread, it also served as a healthy food alternative for livestock.

Today, barley is still common in breads and cereals, but it is more regularly used to create fermented beverages like beer and other distilled liquids, which means not that much has changed.

Feed and Malt Barley in Western Australia

Western Australia's feed barley has seen such an upswing in demand in recent years that sellers are making outrageous amounts of money.  Feed barley is all but gone from Australia's Western shores in large thanks to the current levels of exportation to China. With the recent ban on genetically modified corn production in the country, Chinese agriculture has shifted gears to, you guessed it, feed and malt barley. China currently imports barley at premiums way above average than that of original front runner Saudi Arabia. The imported barley is widely used by farmers as feed for animals as well as by alcohol producers for malting production. It's a win for China and other Asian countries leaning on the Western Australian market. This is a very dangerous game given that the entire success of the Australian feed barley market can either stay on pace or disappear almost overnight.

The more obvious factor playing into the ups and downs of barley prices in Australia and elsewhere is the ever-changing climate. As the second largest crop in the nation — behind wheat — the quality of feed barley is decreasing as a result of overly warm and dry weather conditions. Fear not for the National Barley Festival, however, as the feed barley harvested for usage there is ample enough. The premium barley or malting barley is what is in grave danger. Barley is only considered premium when it can be malted from two million tonnes or more. Recent harvests come in alarmingly lower than what is needed for proper premium malt manufacturing.

While malt barley from Western Australia remains the primary export for the nation, the falling supply places the need for a solution at the forefront of the Department of Agriculture and Food.