Colombia: Barley Production and Import Gap Widens


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In Colombia, the cultivation of barley dates back practically to the arrival of the Spanish. There are records of its cultivation around 1530 as food for animal consumption —especially beef—and since the 20th century, its primary use has turned to the beer industry.

This could explain, in part, why barley reached the best production levels in 1979 since 1950. According to the National Federation of Cereal, Leguminous and Soybean Growers (Fenalce), in 1950, the barley crop reported 50,500 tons of production, while in 1979, it reached 136,600 tons, which represented an increase of 171%. The planted area also increased, going from 43,900 hectares to 73,900 in the same period (an increase of 68%).

However, starting in 1979, the production of this cereal in Colombia began to report a downward trend, which became much more pronounced starting in 1990. In 2004, production fell to its historical minimum, at 5,505 tons, which fluctuated in subsequent years without exceeding 13,000 tons. When comparing the production of 1990 (108,578 tons) with that of 2021 (6,290 tons), it is evident that, in more than 30 years, it fell by 94.2%.

Barley is produced mainly in the departments of Boyacá, Cundinamarca, and Nariño. Figures from Fenalce show that, in 2021, Boyacá produced 4,675 tons in a planted area of 2,000 hectares. Cundinamarca, for its part, produced 820 tons on 300 hectares, and Nariño registered a production of 795 tons on 393 hectares. Nariño dedicated larger areas to this crop than Cundinamarca but presented a lower yield.

According to Fenalce’s historical records, Colombia began importing barley in 1965, when 49,500 tons entered the country from abroad. By 1978, the volume of imported barley had doubled to 108,000 tons and was increasing steadily —despite some specific variations— until reaching the highest import quantity in 2018, with 321,910 tons. Meanwhile, that same year, national production was 6,958 tons.

According to AgFlow data, Colombia imported 279,530 tons of barley from Argentina in 2022, followed by France (84,000 tons). In 2020, Colombia imported barley worth $86 million, becoming the world’s 19th largest importer of barley. Barley was Colombia’s 118th most imported product. Colombia imports Barley primarily from: Argentina ($74.7 million), France ($6.64 million), and Denmark ($4.64 million).

In terms of volume, Colombia imported around 320 thousand metric tons of barley in 2020, up from 308 thousand tons the year before. This imported volume has been on the incline since 2016. Imports of barley in Colombia far surpassed the country’s barley production, which reached 20 thousand metric tons in 2019.

The Beer Made 100% With Colombian Barley

In 2018, Colombian national brewery Bavaria announced, under the Bavaria Siembra program, the development of the explorer-brewing barley seed, the first Colombian barley seed suitable for producing the company’s beers. With this seed, it was possible to support the work of 242 farmers from Boyacá.

Thanks to the results of the crops in the highlands of Cundiboyacense, Bavaria launched the Club Colombia Siembra brand. This beer is made with 100% Colombian barley. “The cultivation of malting barley on Colombian soil is the materialization of a company dream. It is a sample of how, through innovation, it is possible to look back at the Colombian countryside and bet on the country’s transformation. Colombia is considered the world’s agricultural reserve,” said Marcel Regis, the President of Bavaria.

Bavaria expects to double the number of hectares, reaching 10,000. This would make it possible to cover 10% of Bavaria’s demand for barley, not only with its Club Colombia brand but also with the other brands that make up its portfolio. For this, the company would have among its plans the exploration of new areas for the cultivation of barley, such as the departments of Meta, Cesar, Bolívar, and Sucre.

Other sources: MAS COLOMBIA

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