Spring barley is a key crop in Ireland with top growers achieving consistently high yields, even in challenging seasons, by focusing on disease control and understanding their soils.

With the area of UK spring barley set to soar this year because of the wet autumn, growers could well pick up some tips from their Irish cousins growing crops in often more testing conditions.

Specialist barley grower and former Farmer Focus writer Phillip Reck, farms 850ha of spring barley in County Wexford in southeastern Ireland, and so is well qualified to give some pointers for UK farmers with the HGCA predicting a 40% rise in spring barley drilling this year.

“The potential of spring barley is there – all you have to do is capture it,” he told the conference.

Mr Reck achieved yields of 8.2t/ha (3.3t/acre) in 2010 and 8.4t/ha (3.4t/acre) in 2011 and attributed much of his consistent success to a regimental fungicide programme and looking after one of his most important assets – the soil.

“In the climate we have over here it’s sometimes difficult to get your fungicide programme right, but it’s critical that you apply it when you can, as best you can.”

Keeping it simple, spraying on time and sticking with the optimum spray intervals can make a huge difference. We use an independent agronomist and apply three fungicides on our barley,” he says.

Mr Reck stressed that keeping on top of barley is a must as it is a much less durable crop than others and once it’s struggling, it’s difficult to bring it back.

“In the climate we have over here it’s sometimes difficult to get your fungicide programme right, but it’s critical that you apply it when you can, as best you can.”
Philip Reck

“Early fungicide treatment is also critical to prevent rhynchosporium in latent form and you have to push the boundaries on application.”

“Make full advantage of nozzles, water rates and technology to improve the quality of application, timing and therefore efficacy of chemicals applied.”

The use of a cover crop in the autumn has had great results on his farm with fodder rape helping to improve soil fertility, trap nitrogen and nutrients and help both soil structure and conservation. He adds the balance of nutrients is key to yield and therefore understanding your own soil is critical.

“The best soil you have will exhibit the ideal soil base saturations, Wexford soil is predominantly high in magnesium causing potash to be locked up. We, therefore, have to apply calcium lime to raise pH and help reduce magnesium levels,” he says.

Mr Reck outlined his minimum till cultivation system along with optimum fertiliser applications were also key parts in the process of growing a profitable crop.

“Everything with spring barley happens in two months. We try and drill as early as possible, but this would normally be around 20 March when it’s a bit dryer. Establishment is key and once it’s up don’t hold back,” he says.

Getting the mechanics right in fertiliser spreading was another topic highlighted at the conference as a key area in which farmers were able to make their businesses more profitable and make the most of their crops.

Dermot Forristal from research and advice group Teagasc, believes with the price of fertiliser so high and critical in maximizing yields, it’s important to apply accurately and evenly with twin disc spreaders offering one of the best options.

“On a 100ha farm with winter wheat at 9t/ha over eight years, you’re looking at a £6,000 investment in your spreader, £291,000 for fertiliser and a return of just over £1m for your wheat, so a small investment with big impact.”

Achieving a low co-efficient variation (CV) meant even spreading and this ultimately is the most important aspect. Once you get a CV exceeding the 10% threshold, the effects on a field of wheat, for example, is greatly extenuated and can cause relatively large losses over the years, he said.

Fertiliser choice and use of manufacturers’ resources were also targeted as areas to improve spreading efficiency, as well as the importance of calibration and maintaining and checking for wear.

Mr Forristal highlighted that where possible taking all precautions to maximise the potential of your fertliser should be taken, even with contract spreaders.

Mr Reck concluded by stressing the importance of managing headlands in a field, which can often be neglected, particularly due to the difficulty in sometimes managing them

“If you haven’t got a full tank on your headland then there’s something wrong. It’s a large part of the field and needs looking after just as much as the rest.

The conference was the first to be jointly organised by the Ulster Farmers Union, the College of Food and Rural Enterprise and the Ulster Arable Society.

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