Plan Backwards For Better Yields In Spring Barley – Agronomist & Arable Farmer – David Bouch, Matt Ward

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David Bouch of HutchinsonsWith a predicted 20% drop in the UK’s oilseed rape hectarage this autumn, many growers will be looking to spring barley to supplement their gross margins. David Bouch, Hutchinsons national seed manager gives his views on spring barley varieties.

Spring barley will continue to be an attractive option for growers in 2020. Its competitive nature and prolific early growth is a key part of cultural control programmes enabling growers to help get on top of black-grass.

However, the prolonged harvest will have impacted on the yield and quality of many barley seed crops, which may have a knock on effect on quality seed availability for next spring, he says.

“We’re not necessarily expecting a widespread shortage of spring barley seed, but demand for quality seed is certainly likely to outweigh supply for some of the preferred varieties. Historically many growers wait until January before ordering seed for sowing in February or March, but it may be prudent to cover key or preferred varieties prior to January.”

“As far as spring barley variety choices go, I don’t expect to see much difference to what we saw this year; Planet and Laureate will remain the big favourites. However the newer varieties Cosmopolitan from Senova, and LG Diablo from Limagrain offer higher yields taking the leading positions at the top of the AHDB Recommended List. They will of course require support from the malting and distilling industry to have any impact on the standard bearers. “

“RGT Planet still has a very strong following based on its high yields coupled with a useful end market. Breeders RAGT claim it is now the most widely grown cereal in the world. This comes down to the fact that it is consistent and always delivers on quality, suiting malsters across Europe and beyond.”

“Laureate offers similar yields to RGT Planet but with potentially wider marketing opportunities, as it has full MBC approval for brewing and distilling. The variety has very strong support from all end users.”

“Both varieties perform very well on farm, and hold up well agronomically.”

There is significant potential for LG Diablo now that the variety has full MBC approval for malt distilling use by and has also been moved to Provisional approval 2 for brewing, says Mr Bouch. “This is a variety to watch should it get full approval next year.”

“It’s early days yet for Cosmopolitan, but the variety shows great promise and is currently under testing with the MBC, its grain quality is good, so this shouldn’t be an issue. Agronomically it’s very sound; it’s short, stiff and consistent.”


Consider variable drilling for proven yield benefits

Matt Ward Variable drilling of spring barley can bring about higher yields and improved black-grass control but only if planned for properly from the very start, advises services leader Matt Ward.

Using variable drilling, yield benefits in spring barley are achievable, as was proven by validation trials carried out by Hutchinsons last year. The statistically valid work proved that using Omnia Precision Agronomy for variable rate drilling plans can increase yields by an average of 0.6t/ha, which is worth £80/ha (based on wheat at £135/t), when compared with a standard flat seed rate approach.

The added bonus is that these better yields come about in line with reducing black-grass populations by as much as 50%, he says.

“To optimise these yields it’s important to have a plan from the outset and know want you want to achieve - don’t just put the crop in and hope for the results that you want.”

“Work out what may compromise the end result working backwards to alleviate as much of the variability as possible.”

Where to start? he asks. “Most spring barley crops on heavy lands are being grown for black-grass control so it is critical that the crop doesn’t let the black-grass through – and this can be used as a starting point when working out the desired establishment rate.”

“Remember barley yield is driven by grain number, which in turn is determined by ear number and tiller density. Barley, particularly two-row varieties, has less capacity to produce grains per ear compared to wheat, so getting the right number of plants established is a critical step in achieving high yields.”

 “A crop with 600 ears/m2 for example, would typically yield 6t/ha (assuming 21 grains/ear), whereas 800 ears/m2 would yield nearer 8t/ha.”

“Going back to the start and variety choice - once you have decided what variety you are growing consider any variability there may be in the actual seed.”

“TGW can have an impact on the amount of seed required – so make sure to check this.”

“However once again think about the ultimate aim – such as the desired number of ears- and then work backwards to get the correct seed rate. Just accounting for soil type will not be sufficient.”

“If aiming for an average of 775 ears/m2 work out how many plants are needed to achieve this and then how many seeds/m2 are needed for that number of ears or establishment rate.”

“For 80% establishment that works out to be about 406 seeds/m2 at a TGW of 50.”

However how often do you get 80% establishment in a spring barley crop, challenges Mr Ward.

“In excellent conditions you can expect 80-90% establishment, but in heavy clay where black-grass is flourishing, which is more often than not where your spring crop is being grown, establishment will drop significantly and can be as low as 55%.”

How many seeds are needed?

% Establishment

Seeds/m2 needed