Variety choices for spring cropping in the North

Spring cropping remains an important option for many northern farms, and growers should think about variety choices carefully and take steps to secure seed early, said CAS arable agronomist Archie Boase, part of Hutchinsons.

LG Diablo Spring Barley.

Although the total spring cropping area is projected to be down in 2023 due to the favourable conditions for autumn drilling, there will still be a reasonable area dedicated to spring crops next year.

“Generally, it’s been such a good backend this autumn, even a lot of the spring cropping area has been put into winter crops because the opportunity’s been there,” said Cheshire/ Lancashire-based CAS arable agronomist, Archie Boase, part of Hutchinsons.

However, for farmers who grow maize and spring barley for animal feed or those who couldn’t complete winter drilling before the weather window closed, spring cropping remains a key option. To help farmers plan ahead, Mr Boase outlined his recommendations for spring cropping options in 2023.

Forage maize

Forage maize is a key spring crop for many growers in the Northwest. According to Mr Boase, early maturing varieties are the ones to look out for, due to the tight window for harvesting maize in the autumn.

“This year has been the exception. Maize harvest was generally earlier due to crops reaching maturity sooner, with yields varying anywhere from 35-60 t/ha, depending on soil type and nutrient input,” Mr Boase pointed out.

For the coming spring, however, he recommends earlier with an FAO rating of 160-190, depending on soil type.

“Favourable varieties include Pioneer P7326 and P7034. P7034 is favourable due to the ability to feed it almost straight out of the clamp due to its high dent starch content, allowing it to break down quicker in the rumen.

“Prospect and Ability also do well, scoring high on the NIAB/ BSPB descriptive list for dry matter yield, with Prospect topping the early variety dry matter yield. Perez is also a good all-rounder, particularly in the extra early slot,” Mr Boase added.

Spring barley

Spring barley is the main cereal crop in the North, with the focus generally being on grain yield and straw height rather than growing for the malting or brewery markets. Therefore, variety choices must reflect these targets, while also having good resistance to lodging and disease, particularly to Rhynchosporium and mildew.

“Ramularia is also important, but there are no RL ratings for that, so control is more about preventative action throughout the season by reducing stress and choosing the correct fungicide, rather than varietal choice,” Mr Boase said.

For many growers, popular spring barley choices have included Laureate, RGT Planet and LG Diablo. Malvern is also a promising up-and-comer according to Mr Boase, with good yields achieved in the West and a decent lodging rating.

“Laureate and LG Diablo are pretty good for Rhynchosporium [rated 7 and 6 respectively], whereas Malvern is only rated 3, so it is something we need to watch. Despite Malvern’s low score for Rhynchosporium, with a 105 for yield in the West, it looks very promising, especially against some older varieties.”

When looking at the overall performance of spring barley in 2022, Mr Boase noted the crop fared well despite the lack of rainfall, averaging 5.5-7 t/ha which was comparable to many spring wheats.

“Crops on heavier ground performed better, which I put down to better water holding capacity throughout the dry spells.

“There was a lot of variation in yields in cereals this year, which was mainly down to soil type and growers reducing fertiliser inputs, particularly nitrogen and potassium, due to the higher prices,” Mr Boase remarked.

Spring wheat

Although spring wheat is not commonly grown in the Northwest, it can be used to “fill in” where winter wheat drilling could not be completed, Mr Boase said.

Similar to spring barley, the primary end market for spring wheat is animal feed production rather than milling. In recent years, Group 2 varieties KWS Cochise and KWS Chilham performed particularly well in the North, Mr Boase pointed out.

Both varieties are rated relatively high for Septoria, mildew and rust resistance and offer better yield potential than the Group 1 Mulika, which has been around for 11 years.

“Mulika has definitely got a place though, especially as there could be a bit of patching up to do in some late-sown Group 1 wheats given how wet the weather turned later this autumn,” Mr Boase added.

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