Remember spring barley, cereal growers are being urged as winter wheat drilling continues apace.

Given rising costs it could pay to switch crops sooner than usual, says an independent consultant.

Despite predictions of a reduced wheat area post-CAP reform, plenty seems to be going into the ground, admits Simon Ward of Cambs-based Increment.

But as fuel and fertiliser prices soar, the argument for replacing wheat with spring barley sooner in the sowing season becomes stronger, says Mr Ward.

Doing so normally becomes more cost-effective from mid to late November.

But DEFRA statistics show there is a big overlap between higher end spring barley yields and the lower end winter wheat output often associated with late drilling, he says.

“A good crop of spring barley is far more profitable than a poor crop of wheat.”

So given this season’s extra cash flow advantage and potential environmental stewardship payment, barley becomes even more attractive, he argues.

“Cash flow and fuel costs are important.”

Spring barley needs only about half the nitrogen required by wheat.

“At current prices that is a difference of about 50/ha, which goes straight on to gross margin.”

The phosphate and potash spend could be 25/ha (10/acre) less.

Growers struggling to control blackgrass could save up to 60/ha (24/acre) by changing crops, and provided the barley is not sown before mid-February there is 120/ha (48/acre) to be gained via ELS over-wintered stubbles.

Spring barley offers growers facing pernicious weeds a chance to tackle them more effectively, says Velcourt’s Keith Norman.

“Using cheap glyphosate they can start with a clean slate.

We are significant spring barley growers and I think the area is set to rise.”

On southern chalkland the company manages, the switch to spring barley was largely made three years ago.

But on heavier land, where late sowing can lead to thin poor crops, growers must be cautious, advises colleague Richard Williamson.

“The enemy of spring barley is cuckoo corn.

You have to be assured of getting the crop in the ground in good time.”

andrew.blake@rbi.co.uk