Drinks giant Diageo says it is committed to sourcing as much malting barley as possible from Scottish growers.
The company made the comments after it emerged a shipment of Swedish malting barley, destined for Diageo, was unloaded at a dock in Montrose earlier this week.
Farmers took to social media to complain about the shipment, which follows many malting barley producers being told they may need to hold on to up to 20% of their contracted barley until March 2021 due to the implications of Covid-19 on grain storage.
The storage problem was blamed on reduced demand for malt following the downturn in production at distilleries and breweries during the Covid lockdown.
NFUS combinable crops committee chairman Willie Thomson said farmers had contacted the union about the imported barley.
“Reassurances are regularly sought and provided by the distilling sector that the maximum amount of its malting requirements continue to be sourced from Scottish growers.
“Honouring that commitment this harvest will be hugely important in a year when, because of last year’s awful autumn weather, spring barley plantings south of the Border have soared.”
He added: “We are also aware that each year, small quantities of specialist varieties of barley are routinely imported by distillers but these make up only a fraction of their annual requirement.
A spokesman for Diageo said the Swedish shipment accounted for just above 3% of the total amount of barley the company procures every year.
He said: “We are the largest customer of grain from Scottish farmers, purchasing all of our wheat and the vast majority of our malting barley in Scotland.
“We have to import a small proportion of specialist high-enzyme malted barley that is used in grain whisky distilling because we are currently unable to source the required quantity and specification in Scotland or elsewhere in the UK,” he said.
“We work continually with the sector to try to source this high enzyme malted barley locally, but have not yet been able to secure the necessary supplies.”
The Scotch Whisky Association said the industry is committed to supporting Scottish farmers. A spokeswoman said: “Around 90% of barley requirements of the industry are sourced in Scotland.”