As spring drilling continues across the country, Limagrain arable technical manager Ron Granger has outlined six ways to get the most out of the crop.
Understand end market and contract requirements
End requirements will influence the agronomic strategy, so growers must be clear about the criteria that need to be met, Mr Granger said.
“Depending on the locality and the opportunities for selling to different end users or export markets, the barley crop you grow – and the agronomic inputs required – will be determined by the sector you target.”
This is particularly true for those dependent on hitting grain nitrogen percentages, especially for brewing and distilling markets.
Choose the right variety
Variety is often also determined by the end-user or contract. For those still deciding, Mr Granger recommends dual-use varieties, such as LG Diablo, which has good yield performance and several end-market opportunities.
“Newer recommended varieties certainly offer higher yield potential, and if contracts are offered, then they are certainly worth considering. Dual-use varieties offer growers flexibility for the distilling, brewing and feed market sectors.”
Wait for good drilling conditions
Trials have shown that earlier drilling can improve yield potential, however, this may only be possible on lighter, free-draining soils that will dry quicker than heavier soil types.
“Early drilling will significantly increase disease risk, so consider more disease-resistant varieties for this situation,” explained Mr Granger.
“Generally, patience is required to wait for the right window of opportunity, when both the weather and soil conditions allow good seedbeds to be created with rising soil and air temperatures, to ensure rapid emergence and establishment, with continued plant growth
“Certainly, we saw the value of earlier drilling in spring 2022, with most growers drilling earlier than usual in most regions. This, along with upfront nutrition before the drought hit, was certainly part of why growers achieved higher yield potential than originally anticipated.”
Optimise seed rates
A survey of more than 100 growers showed that 49% were typically sowing spring barley at 300-350 seeds/m2, with 76% targeting eight tonnes per hectare.
Mr Granger said that this seems about right but that seed rates must be tailored to individual situations. Trials have shown that vigorous, higher tillering varieties, including LG Diablo, have an optimum seed rate of 350 seeds/m2 when sown into ideal conditions around mid-March.
However, this should be adjusted depending on the weather, seedbed quality, moisture, drilling date and the grower’s own experience with each field.
“Late-sown crops inevitably produce fewer tillers and therefore fewer ears, which must be compensated for by increasing seed rate.”
Lower rates between 300 and 325 seeds/m2 could suffice when working into an onion bed in March, but when forced to drill in April, pushing rates up to 400 or even 450 seeds may be more appropriate to achieve the final ear number and a competitive crop in blackgrass.
Maintain tiller numbers
Once the crop is established, Mr Granger says high final ear counts are the best way to achieve the yield potential. The AHDB Barley growth guide suggests growers should target 775 ears/m2.
“It is interesting to note that in 2019, higher yield potential was achieved from even higher final ear counts, approaching 800/m2 by harvest. An 8-9 t/ha crop needs around 800 ears/m2, which at a 350 seeds/m2 rate, equates to around 2.5-3 tillers per plant at harvest.
“However, experience shows optimal tiller and ear counts may be underachieved in many situations, meaning crops fall short of achieving their full yield potential.”
Weather is the biggest issue. Drought will cause tiller losses, so high tillering varieties, an appropriate seed rate and driving good establishment and early rooting with a balanced nutrition regime.
“Traditionally, spring barley was often seen as a lower input crop, with growers reluctant to increase nitrogen application rates in fear of exceeding maltsters grain nitrogen limits. However, LG trials over many seasons of testing, indicate that using higher N rates can be beneficial.”
The trails saw a standard seed application of 120kg per hectare, compared to a split application of 150kg, with an additional 30kg applied at late tillering. This resulted in a yield benefit of 0.4-0.5 tonnes per hectare, with little or no impact on grain nitrogen.
“Higher yielding varieties respond positively to higher nitrogen inputs, due to their increased yield potential and dilution of grain nitrogen content.”
Optimise other nutrients
Alongside nitrogen, optimising macronutrients such as phosphate, potash, magnesium and sulphur has proven beneficial to tiller retention and final yield.
“Tissue analysis of the young growing crop can help identify any shortfalls in nutrition before visible symptoms appear, and is a relatively inexpensive way of targeting a high yielding crop.”
Micronutrients, such as manganese, zinc, copper, iron, and boron, are also useful and help to secure high grain numbers and the maximum yield potential.
“Apply these independently with other key inputs, or as a multi-nutrient product. Spring barley is a fast-growing crop and if key nutrients are deficient at any time, yield potential will be compromised.”
Mr Granger added that early growth regulator applications should be considered to promote rooting and strong tillering. At least two fungicides are recommended to maintain tiller numbers and healthy plants, with the first application typically at GS 25-31, with the second targeted between GS 39-55.
“Of course, if the season dictates a low disease pressure or a drought situation, flexibility in fungicide input and timing should be adjusted for the final yield potential in hand.
“Spring barley can move through growth stages quickly, so close monitoring of the growing crop is essential.”