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So, here’s a question.

How many pints of beer can be brewed from the barley grown on one square metre of soil?

Yep, it depends on location, growing conditions and farming practices. And yep, the grain needs to be malted before it’s used for brewing. So just a ballpark figure.

A square metre of land. Barley on it. How much beer?

Scroll to the end for the ballpark answer.

Another question. Or two.

What goes into growing and producing the barley grain in that square metre, or that hectare of land? And what are the considerations?

Well, that’s a bit more complicated. Actually, much more complicated. And also fascinating.

Come along to our Crisp Malt Open Day in June or to one of our roadshow seminars, and we can delve into things in detail and take a trip to the nearby barley fields. But for the moment, we’ve gone through just some of the things farmers have to take into consideration and some of the things they have to contend with.

What we cover here is just the tip of the iceberg. Yes, there are so many more technical details we’d love to share, so if your curiosity has been aroused, get in touch with our Tech Support Team.

What considerations go into growing barley on a hectare of land?

Winter and or Spring?

Winter varieties, such as Maris Otter barley and Craft are sown from mid-September to early November; spring varieties, such as Laureate and Planet, from January to early April.

Seeds and small seedlings can tolerate frosts – but frosts significantly damage crops that are further forward. Bearing in mind that germination begins when temperatures reach 10 to 30C, it all makes for a fine judgement call on planting times.

Too forward plants are also susceptible to foliar disease and barley yellow dwarf virus (BYDV). Yet all this has to be balanced against the need for early enough sowing for the crop to develop a good root system and become well-tillered before winter.

illustration depicting winter and spring barley growing conditions


Obviously, the right type of soil is critical, and it’s important to note that barley doesn’t like organic, very fertile soils. It prefers thin chalk and limestone soils with a pH of around 6.5. The seedbed needs to be fine and dense with a soil structure that allows for good drainage.


Barley likes warmth and plenty of sunshine in the summer and isn’t keen on getting too soggy. The relatively low rainfall and sunny climes of the east of Britain suit it well. Its penchant for long hours of daylight is fulfilled by the county’s northern latitude. The gentle sea breezes that reach the farms of Crisp growers in East Anglia, especially Norfolk, and Moray in Scotland contribute to the cultivation of what might be – or indeed what is probably – the best barley in the world.


Even if the climate is ideal, that doesn’t mean the weather always works for the farmer. You need a certain level of moisture in the ground, but just when you’d planned to sow, it pours down – and your fields are too soggy for planting. Just when you’d planned to harvest, a storm flattens parts of your crop. You want to harvest the grain as dry as possible, as drying is energy-intensive and hugely expensive. But the prevailing weather might mean your choices are very limited.

Sowing and germination

Roots need to push down into the wet soil, so seeds are drilled in at 3 – 5 cm when there is some moisture around to support germination. As the AHDB (Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board) says,

Initially, water penetrates the seed coat (imbibition), softening the hard, dry tissues inside. Good contact between seed and soil speeds up water transfer, which is particularly important in drier seedbeds. Water uptake activates the embryo and allows plant hormones to be transported through seed tissues.

” Very wet or near-saturated soil conditions reduce the oxygen diffusion rate. In such conditions, despite normal imbibition, oxygen becomes limiting and reduces germination.”

An illustration of how barley grows


Nitrogen supports early rapid growth of crops, leaf development and size, higher yields, grain size, and protein (again, a balancing act for the farmer, as of course, you’re after a low protein / nitrogen malt)

  • Phosphate gives energy for early growth and root mass and can help improve yield.
  • Manganese is important for aiding the structure of photosynthetic proteins and enzymes.
  • Potassium helps with regulating the water in the plant and with structural integrity.
  • Sulphur can improve the yield and quality of the crop.
  • Zinc is helpful for enzyme reactions, metabolising nitrogen and synthesising protein.

Synthetic fertilisers are energy-intensive to produce and are created from fossil fuels. In their full life cycle, they are responsible for around 5% of all greenhouse gas emissions, which presents another conundrum for farmers to consider.

Crisp Malt is working closely with our farming partners to support them in their efforts to reduce their carbon footprint.

a diagram that explains the early rapid growth of a barley seed and it's requirements.


BYDV (barley yellow dwarf virus) is spread by aphids and can lead to a 50% loss in yield in winter barley varieties. Two applications of aphicides in the growing cycle may be necessary to keep the little blighters under control.


There are many airborne diseases that can affect barley crops, not least mildew, brown rust, and mosaic virus, the latter of which need the farmer to introduce crop rotation to help keep it under control. Then there’s ramularia, a leaf spot fungus that affects sugar beat and barley and is hard to manage given the resistance it has acquired to the most common fungicides.


Black grass, chickweed, and wild oats can cause a real headache, not just because of concern around certain sprays (glysophate in particular) but also because of a buildup of weed resistance to those sprays.

Does it matter?

So coming back to that question, about what goes into growing the barley grain in that square metre, or that hectare of land, let’s just say, there’s more to it than meets the eye.

When you’re busy getting ready to start a mash, you may not think of everything farmers have to do to deliver top-quality barley to us maltsters.

Just like when people are busy ordering their pint of beer or dram of whisky, they may not be thinking of everything you’ve done to achieve the perfect drink.

But, here at Crisp, our supply chain matters, and we’re proud of what our farmers achieve – we hope it matters to you too.

With curiosity comes appreciation

But there’s something about delving backward or forwards in the supply chain that is deeply rewarding.

One of our company values is about being curious. Our team members just LOVE to understand the minutiae of what goes on in the barley field, distillery, and brewhouse. As well as in our own maltings of course.

We think that knowledge of and interest in the supply chain make us better at what we do, more engaged, more motivated, and more appreciative. It makes us truly appreciate the skills, dedication, creativity, and resilience of our farmer suppliers and our brewer and distiller customers.

So next time you’re out and about, raise a glass to the land. Cheer on those fantastic farmers who nurture it so skillfully, producing the very best quality barley for us so that we can provide you with the finest malt.

How many pints of beer can be brewed from the barley grown on one square metre of soil?

Around 8 pints

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