UK farmers look set to secure premium export markets for a top yielding spring barley
On the back of widespread pan-European interest from continental brewers, UK farmers look set to secure premium export markets for a top yielding spring barley from next harvest.The newcomer, spring barley variety KWS Irina was the highest yielding malting barley on last year’s UK Recommended List and out-yielded every variety in 2014’s official trials, including the best feed types.According to breeder KWS, the variety now has the green light from leading brewers on the continent, including Heineken, Carlsberg and Radeberger, for use in a wide range of beers.These industry approvals come following evaluation and commercial use of significant tonnages across a number of EU countries including France, Germany, the Netherlands, Denmark and Sweden.KWS Irina – which is the first spring barley from the company’s pan-European breeding programme to make the UK Recommended List – is a year ahead in continental tests compared with the UK.While it was fast tracked in countries such as France – going through the brewer’s evaluation process in just two, rather than three years – UK brewers are only now getting their hands on significant quantities for macro-malting tests, says the company.As a result, though a decision on UK approval by the Institute of Brewing and Distilling (IBD) is not expected prior to May 2015, UK growers, particularly those near to ports, should be looking to gain from Irina’s strong combination of yield and ready-made continental market, adds the business.”Irina has to compete with established high GN types such as Propino, NFC Tipple, Concerto and Quench, which currently satisfy at least half of the UK malting market,” says UK value chain manager, Dr Kirsty Richards.”After three years in micro-malting trials it has a high water extract ahead of Propino and NFC Tipple and just behind Concerto, a good free amino nitrogen level, similar to Propino and better than NFC Tipple as well as low -glucan levels. Additionally, KWS Irina has no issues with movements through 2.50 or 2.25mm sieves.”Furthermore, with the industry increasingly looking for spring varieties that travel and do well across Europe, Irina seems to have the robust agronomic characteristics to deliver in a wide range of climatic zones.”This is creating significant interest as it will allow brewers to draw upon a variety that suits their Europe-wide processing needs producing consistent malt from a wide range of sources, as well as giving them continuity of supply,” she says.In the UK, product development manager, John Miles points out that at 109 per cent of controls KWS Irina was the highest yielding malting variety on the 2014 RL. Similarly, last harvest, KWS Irina again topped HGCA Recommended List trial yields at 109 per cent, maintaining a five-year average yield of 107 per cent.On farm, growers – largely across the eastern counties – who had crops for commercial malting tests or for seed, averaged 8t/ha at just under 1.7 per cent nitrogen with screenings between 1.5-3.0 per cent.The high yield potential year tested Irina’s straw characteristics and Mr Miles reckons that, unlike some other brewing varieties, it has no inherent weaknesses from necking and that it will remain a ‘9’ for brackling on the new Recommended List.In seed rate trials, Mr Miles says that Irina has better tillering ability compared with some other UK barleys and this could help those looking to use spring varieties to get on top of black-grass.”In 2013 there was no significant yield difference from trials where Irina was sown at 350, 450 and 550 seeds/m2 – all plots were within 0.13t/ha of each other.”Last harvest, at even lower seed rates of 250 seeds/m2, KWS Irina still yielded really strongly at 10.9t/ha compared with 11.2t/ha from 450 seeds/m2. This suggests that we could reduce seed rates on good sites and seedbeds.”Peter Riley (left) of Prime Agriculture managed 300ha (740 acres) of KWS Irina this year for farmer clients across Norfolk and says that Irina always out-yielded other spring barleys on the same farm.”Irina seems to have a number of characters that improve spring barley agronomy,” he says. “One key contributor is its resistance to brackling; growers remember the terrible days of Optic when they left a lot on the deck.”It established well with good vigour, in early April, from crops drilled in the second half of March and benefitted from rainfall which mirrored that of an irrigation programme.”While there were a lot of lodged crops in Norfolk, KWS Irina had superior lodging resistance and stood well,” he notes.”Our yields were between 7.5-9.7t/ha and most crops made the quality grade,” he says. “Feedback from growers has been good and most are keen to grow Irina again subject to market contracts,” adds Peter.KWS UK confirms that there will be sufficient seed to take around 3 per cent market share this spring, but that the variety could take 12-15 per cent of the market in a couple of years.Newcomer does 7.5t/ha in NorfolkNorfolk farm manager David Pike expects spring barley to yield around the 6t/ha mark, so when 75ha of newcomer KWS Irina did 7.5t/ha last harvest, he was delighted.Farming 1,000ha (2,470 acres) based at Hardingham Farms, Mr Pike grows spring barley after the late lifted, reduced area of 100ha (250 acres) of sugar beet he now grows.The barley is drilled as soon as conditions allow, often around the 20th February, on ploughed and pressed, predominantly sandy loam soils. “We’ve also got beet and beans to establish, so would rather go earlier with the spring barley,” he says.”The 75ha was grown across quite a few fields, including wetter patches where we’d not been able to get wheat in,” he says.”Spring barley suits our lighter ground and while we do have black-grass on some heavier land, spring beans, every fourth or fifth year, helps us to control the weed with stale seedbed techniques.”While seed rates varied according to the field conditions, most of the Irina was drilled at 160kg/ha, but on the back of this year’s experiences, he reckons there may be scope to cut this back.”Compared to other barleys we’ve grown in recent years the biggest difference was Irina’s early vigour. As soon as it came through it took off,” says David.”Breeders have made advances and varieties are getting better, it didn’t brackle so there was little ear loss. At harvest it looked very even – it was a good looking crop almost as level as a crop of wheat.”David, who gets his agronomy advice from Peter Riley of Prime Agriculture, grew the crop to secure a malting quality sample as part of the large-scale macromalting tests being carried out this winter.”We gave it a couple of fungicides – both Siltra Xpro – plus Terpal with the second spray timing, and there was no disease or lodging.”The crop was short and stiff and combined well. There was also a strong yield of good looking straw behind it which we baled to gain extra value from the crop,” says Mr Pike.”While we’d normally expect 6.2t/ha and have had 6.5t/ha from Propino in the past couple of years, our Irina averaged 1t/ha more.”Furthermore on one better field, where the previous beet had been lifted in better conditions, the Irina peaked at 8.3t/ha.”Given 120kg/ha of nitrogen in two doses, the crop produced a very low N sample of 1.45 per cent and just 2.40 per cent screenings.On the back of this year’s experience, Mr Pike will look to grow Irina again. “Based on its high yield and good growth characteristics, it is the obvious choice if malting contracts are available,” he says.