In a move that will go some way to help combat China’s tariffs on Australian barley exports the Japanese-owned Asahi Beverages will now source malt direct from local growers for the first time in decades to make the likes of Victoria Bitter and Carlton Draught.

Asahi, which developed the new direct sourcing program after it purchased Carlton & United last year, will now buy more than 70,000 tonnes of malted barley direct from farmers in Victoria and southern NSW to be used in their Yatala (QLD) and Abbotsford (VIC) breweries. Growers in northern NSW are expected to join the scheme before this year’s harvest while the first beers brewed under the program will be rolled out in April.

Asahi said the new supply chain will mean more than 90 per cent of barley used in their beverages will be purchased direct from farmers while the program is set to expand to their smaller breweries including Cascade in Hobart.

The lifeline comes after Australia’s $600 million annual barley export to China was all but ended in May last year following Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s call for an independent inquiry into the origins of COVID-19. Custom authorities in China slapped an 80.5 per cent tariff on Australian barley over claims it had been historically dumped in the Chinese market at a heavily discounted rate.

As well as the new arrangement with Asahi, Australian growers have found timely new markets in places such as Saudi Arabia and India for this year’s bumper harvest.

Grain Producers Australia Chairman Andrew Weidemann said: “Barley farmers have faced many challenges in recent years so it’s fantastic to see a program like this launch. With Asahi’s knowledge and experience, the program will help ensure crops are grown sustainably and that farmers can grow new varieties that can open up more international markets for them, which is particularly timely.”

Asahi’s group chief brewer Jaideep Chandrasekharan (pictured above on the left) said buying malted barley direct from farmers was an important change in their national operations.

“Under the old model the grains we purchased generally weren’t segregated but this program allows us to track the provenance of barley used to brew our major beers and gives us direct relationships with more farmers.”

The scheme will see farmers grow barley in accordance with Asahi’s strict quality program, which will monitor parameters such as protein levels and grain size. Water use and other agricultural inputs will also be tracked.

“Until recently, the expertise to develop and maintain an intricate program like this at scale didn’t exist in Australia but we’re now working with supply chain managers Origin Trail and Pure Grain to bring it to life,” Mr Chandrasekharan added.

John Bennett (pictured above on the right), whose barley farm in Victoria’s West Wimmera is now supplying Asahi, said: “The new program connects our farm directly with Asahi. This relationship gives us a better understanding of their stringent quality parameters and ensures we provide the highest-quality barley for their brewing process. Buying barley direct not only benefits farmers, but the communities we live in too.”

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