A rising interest in growing oilseed rape could require the return of winter barley to rotations, says a leading independent Yorkshire agronomist.

Oilseed rape areas are likely to increase in the next few years on the back of firmer prices and biodiesel production, according to Yorkshire Arable Advice agronomist Andrew Fisher.

“It will mean winter barley becomes increasingly important in rotations, particularly further north where you have a narrower window to establish oilseed rape [following wheat harvest],” he says.

“Growers will need to use its earlier harvest to help get the rape established in time.”

Winter barley will also spread the workload at harvest – important as farms consider expansion following CAP reform.

“Some farms are relinquishing land while others are expanding,” he says.

“I think

we’ll see more of that this autumn.

In this scenario, I think more barley will be grown to cope with the workload.”

Typically, Mr Fisher’s clients in North Yorkshire are already growing winter barley in the rotation, he says.

“There are quite a lot of mixed farms which grow the barley for the straw and to feed on farm.”

The straw in particular can be very valuable to growers, he points out.

“Typically it can be worth 20-25/acre.”

Livestock farmers prefer barley straw, according to Yorkshire-based JSR Farms technical director Philip Huxtable.

“It’s far more absorbent than wheat straw – you only need half the amount.”

It is part of the reason the 3900ha arable unit is increasing its winter barley area, he says.

“We can supply our pig units with all the straw they require for the year before wheat harvest has even started.”

A need to simplify the rotation post-CAP reform is another key driver in the decision.

The farm will retain a six-year rotation, but it will be made up of 540ha blocks in the future, says Mr Huxtable.

Oilseed rape will provide the entry into the rotation’s bread winner, winter wheat.

Winter barley provides by far the best entry into oilseed rape, he notes.

“In our experience, you can run into problems trying to establish rape following wheat.

Further south, wheat might be perfectly acceptable.”

The increase in winter barley area is a big change for the farm.

“In the last five to eight years, we had gone out of winter barley,” says Mr Huxtable.

Winter barley yields had seemed to plateau on the farm at about 8t/ha, despite trying lots of varieties, and growing costs had escalated, while premiums for malting were hard to obtain, he recalls.

“We switched our attention to spring barley.”

But higher-yielding six-row varieties with good specific weights have helped the farm switch back, he says.

“If we’re not achieving 9t/ha with Sequel, Pict or Colossus, we’re disappointed.

We’ve been hitting 10t/ha with Colossus quite consistently.”

This year Mr Huxtable is assessing both new hybrids from Syngenta Seeds, Boost and Bronx, for their potential in 2ha blocks.

“But we haven’t made any decisions yet on what we will grow next year.”

mike.abram@rbi.co.uk