Arable News

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Variety choice is vital to spring cropping success

Market premiums for spring milling wheat and spring malting barley are likely to be at greatly reduced levels

Market premiums for spring milling wheat and spring malting barley are likely to be at greatly reduced levels compared with what growers have received in previous years.
Plentiful supplies of both crops following the exceptional 2015 harvest and anticipated increases in crop areas this spring means end-users are under no pressure to offer sizable premiums in order to tempt growers into the market, according to those in the trade.
Malting barley premiums are unlikely to exceed 15/tonne, according to Openfield barley trader Adrian Fisher (left) while Gleadell Agriculture’s seed manager Chris Guest says premiums for spring milling wheats are difficult to forecast.
“Maltsters have taken advantage of lower prices and large supplies. Short of a production shortfall at harvest, I suspect prices will remain range bound until demand picks up in the autumn,” says Mr Fisher.
One consequence of such market realities, says Mr Guest (right), is the intense focus it puts on crop choice and variety selection.
“A Group 1 spring milling wheat such as Mulika needs a premium of about 18/tonne simply to achieve gross margin parity with a higher yielding feed wheat, such as KWS Kilburn. Consequently, growers may find that a Group 2 spring wheat such as KWS Willow, which yields close to Kilburn and is likely to receive a premium of only a few pounds less than a Group 1, will return the best gross margin,” he says.
“For those without the space to store a milling wheat separately or without the experience of meeting milling specification, then a spring feed wheat is likely to be the most profitable spring wheat option,” he adds.

Barley options
The options for spring barley are simpler, but the market can be fickle. “The best-performing fully approved spring malting barley is also higher yielding than any of the feed types, so it is less of a loss should it miss market specification,” says Mr Guest.
KWS cereals product manager Will Compson agrees. “KWS Irina is fully approved for brewing and is either accepted by end-users or is in the final stages of gaining acceptance. With a UK average yield of 7.84t/ha on the AHDB 2016 Recommended List, it is 5 per cent higher yielding than the industry standard of the past few years. At 130/t this higher yield adds a not insignificant 65/ha to the gross margin,” he says.

Beating black-grass
Delaying autumn drilling and expanding the area of spring crops within the rotation can improve control of black-grass, but measures need to be sustained, not dropped after one year of acceptable performance, says Agrii’s Colin Lloyd.
Mr Lloyd oversees Agrii’s Throws Farm black-grass research centre at Stow Longa where, for more than 15 years, he has investigated varying means of cultural control to help growers tackle this yield-robbing weed.
“Delaying autumn drilling until the second weekend of October makes a huge difference and it can reduce populations by up to 50 per cent, but it takes confidence to do so. There will be situations where it may be more beneficial to opt for a late-autumn drilled spring wheat or, on the worst-affected fields, move to spring cropping entirely,” he says.
“Growers with a high population of resistant black-grass need to stop driving themselves into a loss. Trials confirm that with careful variety selection, spring wheats drilled in the late autumn can yield as well as, and often better than, winter wheat sown at the same time,” he added.
Soil management is also a factor, but it requires attention to detail before it can be fully exploited. And when it comes to drilling the crop, “Something as simple as switching to a narrower tine on the drill which disturbs less soil can dramatically reduce black-grass germination levels,” he explained.
Grower mind-set is changing and having visited Stow Longa over the years, many are now figuring out for themselves how to approach this problem, but it’s not a one-season solution. “It takes time, often three to four years to get on top of it,” he says.

  • Written by: Farmers Guide
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