Arable News

  • Written by: Farmers Guide
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Winter barley: the more profitable second cereal

Winter barley is making a come-back as aviable second cereal helped by the introduction of new varieties with greateryield potential, lower growing costs compared with winter wheat and theintroduction of the three-crop rule, according to breeder KWS.

In KWS trials performed near Cambridge inthe East of England, two-row winter barley has out-performed winter wheat asthe second cereal in four of the five past years. The one exception being 2014when the seasons favoured wheat. A similar result has been observed in on-farmtrials in Yorkshire.

Speaking at a recent crop discussion dayat the Cambridgeshire trials site at Fowlmere, KWS commercial manager JulieGoult explained that on average two-row winter barley has produced a mean yieldof 10.9 t/ha compared with winter wheats 9.8 t/ha from 2010 to 2014.

The strong continued performance ofKWSs two-row barleys in Recommended List trials and with Glacier and lastyears newcomer, Tower, now joined by Infinity, suggests it may be time to moveon from Cassia which is now 3-4% lower yielding, she says.

Looking at the RL data, KWS Infinitydoes equally well in light and heavy land situations where it is joint top2-row at 106% of controls. Equally, KWS Tower is a top performer on light landand just 1% behind KWS Infinity on the drought prone soils.

KWS Glacier on the other hand is 2%behind its two partner varieties on light land, but on heavy ground and in theEastern region it matches KWS Infinity and this is where it will find mostfavour.

Winter barley is a more reliable andconsistent performer across the seasons making it a less risky second cereal optionto winter wheat. In both 2010 and 2011 the January to June rainfall was belowthe five-year average while 2012 was the reverse with about 100mm more than normal.2013 was another low rainfall year which favoured barley while 2014 was anexcellent year for wheat with roughly 100mm more rain in the first half of theyear, but how often do we get a perfect excellent year? says Julie Goult (seerainfall table in the appendix for data).

The high-yielding KWS varieties alsoperform consistently well in the north, she points out. 

In the north, again theres littlebetween them; KWS Glacier is just 1% behind KWS Tower and KWS Infinity, albeitthe latters results are based on more limited data. Picking out theagronomics, again the differences are small, once more highlighting thestrength and potential of all three.

KWS Infinity has strong standing poweron a par with Tower and has very good resistance to brackling, ahead of bothGlacier and Tower.  Straw yields areahead of the others being similar to Cassia.

In reality though, all three two-rowwill suit most conditions and those farms looking for good grain for homefeeding or sale on the open market.

Get your hands on any of the top threeand you will find you have a barley that is manageable, produces safe, useablestraw and has the potential to do 10-12t/ha if soils and seasons are withthem, she says.


As commodity prices continue at levelsbelow what most need to make a respectable return, the lower variable costsassociated with winter barley have also come to the fore.

Over the five years of our trials thegrowing costs of winter barley have routinely been 65-75% of those of thevariable costs of the winter wheat suggesting that there is a not insignificantcashflow benefit to growing winter barley over wheat in the second cerealposition.

This saving in production costs, combinedwith a greater output value per hectare due to the higher yields, has also fedthrough into a better gross margin for winter barley.

Despite winter barley trading at adiscount to winter wheat, typically 1-15/t during the five years of the trial,the better yield performance and lower variable costs of winter barley ensureit returns consistently higher gross margins over the long-run, says Julie Goult.

There are also agronomic and managementbenefits that favour winter barley over winter wheat in the second cerealposition.

Viewed on a gross margin basis alonewinter barley is undeniably the more profitable second cereal according to ourtrials, but there are many other benefits to consider for which it can bedifficult to ascribe a value, such as spreading the seasonal workload, early establishmentof oilseed rape, which we reckon is worth up to 0.5t/ha, reducing disease andmarket risk exposure and improved crop competitiveness in black-grasssituations, she adds.


  • Written by: Farmers Guide
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