South Korea: Coarse Grain Superfoods Push Barley

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Jan 19, 2023 | Agricultural Markets

Reading time: 2 minutes

Korean rice farmers usually plant winter barley as a double crop in rice paddy fields in October and begin to harvest towards the end of May, just before rice planting. There are three categories of barley grown in Korea—unhulled, naked, and malting—with approximately 30-40 varieties per category. Unhulled barley is typically used to produce sweeteners and barley tea; naked barley is cooked and mixed with rice for human consumption; malting barley is most commonly used for brewing beer. Domestic malting barley, however, is also being mixed with rice and used for human consumption due to the consumer’s preference for its texture.

Approximately 80% of barley production is concentrated within the provinces of Jeollabuk-do and Jeollanam-do, which produce predominantly naked and malting barley; 12% of barley production is in the southern province of Gyeongsang, where primarily unhulled barley is produced given the cold weather characteristics of the region; and the remaining output is dispersed throughout the country in small pockets. Jeju, Chungnam, Chungbuk, and Gangwon provinces cultivate a small amount.

Korea’s demand for food-grade barley (including malting, unhulled, and naked barley) remained low, mainly due to the decreasing demand for rice substitutes in the Korean market. As Korea’s economy and per capita income has increased over time, the local diet evolved to favor high-quality rice over what is believed to be lower-class barley. Per capita consumption of barley has decreased by almost 97% since 1970.

Adapting to growing consumer trends shifting to the use of products perceived to be healthier, the Government of Korea has developed promotional campaigns to educate people on the heart-healthy properties of barley, citing its high levels of beta-glucan and gamma-aminobutyric acid content. Barley has dietary properties that may reduce cholesterol, lower the risk of diabetes and heart disease, and reduce glycemic index– characteristics desirable for the aging Korean population. However, introducing other coarse grain superfoods such as rye, oats, hemp seed, and lentils complicate promotional efforts to sway consumer preferences towards barley.

Malting barley is used in brewing beer, for making sweeteners (sikhye), and is used as a raw material in traditional sauces such as hot pepper paste. The beer brewing industry has heavily relied on imported malt and has only imported a limited amount of malting barley from other countries because only one company has malting facilities. Korea only imports a small amount of food barley, usually mixed with rice, during cooking because domestic barley has mainly dominated the food-grade barley market.

Korean feed millers have annually consumed about 25,000 MT of barley (usually unhulled barley), with an average range from 20,000 to 30,000 MT. Feed millers heavily rely on imported barley, with a small amount of domestic barley (ranging from 1,000 MT to 4,000 MT in the past years). Some livestock producers have used imported malting barley to cultivate forage for animal feed in hydroponic facilities.

South Korean Barley Output and Trade

In 2022, barley production decreased to 98,836 tons from 2021’s 128,867 tons. The cultivated area was 23,639 hectares, down 18.0% from 28,823 hectares the previous year. Reduced cultivation area is due to weak contract purchase prices and conversion to other crops such as wheat. The purchase price of barley from Nonghyup Economic Holdings (unit: 1st grade, coarse grain, 40kg) was KRW 28,000.

As per AgFlow data, Australia shipped 35,500 tons of Barley to South Korea in 2022, followed by the United States (1,076 tons). Australia usually composes over 90% of the total import of South Korea. For MY 2022/2023, the USDA forecasted domestic barley consumption and production at 210,000 tons and 143,000 tons, respectively.

Other sources: KOREA

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