Changes to the HGCA Recommended List for winter barley will enable growers to make clearer choices on which varieties to drill.

The first is a change to the nitrogen protocol in feed barley trials, which is as a result of the recent advances in barley breeding.

Bill Handley. RL technical manager says previously that nitrogen regimes were based on RB209 and the discretion of individual trials managers around country.

See also: Winter barley swings back into favour

However, the HGCA has now instructed that nitrogen requirements in winter feed barley variety trials be applied in at least two or three split applications to represent the best modern crop nutrition advice.

“There will be more nitrogen applied early and we are recommending that 30% of the total nitrogen dose be applied at mid-tillering, 50% about three to four weeks after at first node and the remaining 20% another three to four weeks later at the second or third node,” explains Mr Handley.

“They are guidelines and crop requirements will vary around the country, so there will still be room for the trials managers to use their experience and make adjustments accordingly.”

Pushing yields

Peter Riley, independent agronomist and member of the Recommended List barley and oats committee, says the aim is to push feed barley yields harder in trials.

“It will give us a fair comparison between hybrids and conventionals and fertiliser levels will reflect current industry standards, so will be familiar to any grower who targets high yields,” he adds.

The second is a common yield target for two-rows, six-rows and six-row hybrids in response to yield gains in feed varieties and the development of hybrid varieties over recent years.

Until now, two-rows, six-rows and six-row hybrid varieties have been treated as distinct crops and had different yield targets.

The reason for this was that six-row hybrids were a new technology, so they were given the opportunity to show how they perform and stimulate interest among growers and breeders.

A similar strategy was used when hybrid oilseed rape varieties were introduced.

David Houghton, chairman of the RL barley and oats committee explains that these varieties are now an established part of the barley marketplace.

“It’s therefore appropriate to compare all varieties against the same benchmark so they get to the list on merit,” he adds.

While growers selecting winter barley varieties for feed will be looking for high yields, yield is not the only consideration in variety choice. The RL barley and oats committee will take all the relevant attributes into account.

These include quality, disease resistance and agronomic features in recommending a range of different variety types to provide diversity in cropping choices.

“The Recommended List will continue to offer choice for winter barley varieties and we expect the changes to stimulate breeding programmes for conventional two-row, six-row and hybrid barleys alike,” says Mr Houghton.

Welcome news

Hybrid barley breeder and agrichemical company Syngenta welcomed the news of the changes protocols, with growers now able to make more informed variety decisions.

The company’s James Taylor-Alford believes that hybrid varieties, such as its top-yielding six-row variety, Volume, will be tested in a way that represents how the crop is grown on farm.

“Over the past three years we have seen an extra 0.8t/ha versus conventional varieties when grown on a field scale compared to when grown in small-scale trial plots.

“We believe these changes to RL procedures could start to move yields closer towards the real-life field situation, while maintaining the statistical rigor required from growers to make the right variety choice,” explains Dr Taylor-Alford.

As Syngenta believed the RL protocols didn’t fairly reflect the advantages that hybrid varieties could provide, they haven’t been included in the RL process in recent seasons.

However, Dr Taylor Alford says that decision has now been reversed. “We have an exciting pipeline of Hyvido hybrid winter barley varieties currently in National List trials and once again look forward to Hyvido hybrids participating in the RL,” he adds.