Growers who continue to ignore winter barley on the back of previous experiences should look again at the crop as a means of improving gross margins across a combinable crop rotation
Growers who continue to ignore winter barley on the back of previous experiences should look again at the crop as a means of improving gross margins across a combinable crop rotation, suggests new research. New winter barley varieties have raised yield potential by between 0.500.75t/ha over the past ten years and the results of a three year joint ADAS/KWS research project suggests it can be a better second cereal option than wheat.Bolt on the added value of the straw and the benefits the crop brings in terms of providing a better entry for oilseed rape, and in staggering operations across the whole farm, and winter barley can add significantly to the farms bottom line.The new work, completed last harvest, commissioned ADAS to run a three year replicated trial at Rosemaund growing winter barley varieties side by side with the best second wheats. It was replicated by KWS at Cambridge and repeated over the same three seasons.
The wheats and barleys were given a belt and braces crop protection programme to test their true potential in a second cereal situation a protocol that included take-all protection on the wheats from Latitude (silthiofam)-treated seed. According to project coordinator, KWS product development manager, John Miles (left), the aim was to ensure inputs werent limiting and that each crop was pushed hard for yield. Winter wheats received 220kg/ha N, the barleys 40kg/ha less; wheats had T0, T1, T2 and T3 sprays costing approximately 90/ha and the barleys’ three fungicides at 60/ha.In all but one of the six trial comparisons over the three contrasting seasons, the two-row barleys KWS Cassia or KWS Glacier out-yielded winter wheats including Grafton, JB Diego and KWS Santiago.While we knew that the barleys had the potential to perform we were surprised at their relative yields compared with the best second wheats, he says. Across the three years, the winter barleys were, on average, 1.5t/ha ahead of the second wheats. Thats a significant yield advantage and one that cannot be ignored.Applying a mid-September delivered price for both crops across the three years, winter barley gave a mean gross margin without factoring in the value of any straw that was 270/ha ahead of second wheat.On the back of the first two years of the work, KWS carried out large-scale 0.6ha field plot work at its product development site on the Yorkshire Wolds. Here, while there was much more variation in yields, winter barley again outperformed winter wheat this time by 1.2t/ha, giving a mean gross margin advantage for the best two-row barleys of around 225/ha.If straw is included, the value of barley as a second cereal improves still further, says John. While values will vary according to season and crop location, figures from John Nixs Farm Management Pocketbook suggest that the average additional value of barley over wheat straw over the past ten years is worth an extra 37/ha.Factor this into the equation across both sets of trials and the gross margin from a feed barley crop increases and generates significantly more than that secured by the best second wheat varieties. Agronomic benefits
On the back of this, John Miles says that by replacing second wheats with these higher yielding winter barleys can bring rotational benefits.Coming to harvest at least two weeks ahead of wheat, it is a more reliable entry crop for oilseed rape and the difficulties from last years wet harvest have highlighted this across many farms, he says.He points to farm yield data from Sentry that confirms that the yield decline for every weeks delay in drilling oilseed rape past an optimum timing is 0.15t/ha. Indeed the companys data focusing on southern crops, suggests that crops planted in late September can be 0.9t/ha lower yielding than those drilled in mid-August and thats worth nearly 350/ha at todays oilseed rape prices.Winter barley can also help to spread the timing of your field operations across your cereal acreage. Drilling can commence from mid-September and while this can clash with early wheat drillings, most other farm operations can be staggered with those required for winter wheat.For example, winter barleys typical three-spray fungicide programme dovetails in well alongside wheat with the appropriate T0, T1 and T2 fungicide timings often weeks apart from those for winter wheat. In addition, fertiliser use can often be timed earlier than that with wheat and spread across fewer applications.This takes pressure off the whole rotation, ensuring a better opportunity to time inputs more accurately to match needs across all crops, compared to where the focus is on a larger area of wheat. It also brings cost savings, helping to reduce overall spending across the farm, easing cash-flows.John suggests that optimum sowing dates for the highest winter barley yields are from mid- to the end of September. Earlier drilling in early September may be appropriate on land at higher altitude and on drought prone soils, providing a better chance of good establishment and strong tillering in the autumn. He says that growers should aim for a spring population of around 300 plants/m2 from a sowing rate dependent upon local conditions, soil type and experience, for two-rows of between 320-365 seeds/m2. In higher tillering two-rows such as KWS Glacier, lower seed rates such as 300 seeds/ m2 may suffice, but this depends upon local conditions and seedbeds.Six-row barleys have a higher ear weight and thus require a lower ear density for optimum yield particularly on more fertile soils. As a result, growers should consider reducing seed rates to 225250 seeds/m2 and aiming for 550600 ears/m2.Defras RB209 guidelines recommend up to 210kg/ha N on poorer soils on the most fertile of land, however, yields of 1011t/ha are possible and, here, higher rates of 220kg/ha could be justified, he suggests.While theres a wide range of herbicides available for a broad spectrum of weeds in the winter barley crop, without the Atlantis (iodosulfuron + mesosulfuron) option, black-grass control can be challenging particularly on heavier ground.The best approach to controlling black-grass is to use a stacked herbicide approach where pre- followed by post-emergence herbicides have given 8097 per cent black-grass control in HGCA trials.A fungicide programme based on a good triazole fungicide such as prothioconazole has proven effective in recent years and supplementing these products with strobilurin and SDHI chemistry provides an additional yield advantage from better disease control.All in all, winter barley stacks up well in trial and on-farm as a profitable second cereal and is also a more flexible option than wheat on lighter soils. On the back of this new data, growers and their advisors should look again at the crop in a range of positions on farm, concludes John.