The winter barley area in Britain is set to rise more than 10% this autumn as growers look to spread their harvest workload and take advantage of an early entry for oilseed rape.

Cereal seed experts say that after two late harvests, this early maturing crop has clear advantages to help hard-pressed growers in a busy summer.

“The trend is back upward and I would expect to see over a 10% pickup in the winter barley area this autumn,” says Barry Barker, national arable seeds product manager at distributor Agrii.

He says that problems with tight winter wheat-oilseed rape rotations have encouraged growers to look at winter barley to help spread the workload rather than just compare crops on gross margin terms.

The winter barley area for harvest 2013 fell nearly 19% to 313,000ha due to wet 2012 autumn drilling conditions, but many see the area bouncing back this season.

Mr Barker expects a rise to 360,000-370,000ha, not quite to 2012’s harvest area of 385,000ha but in line with the harvest 2011 area of 359,000ha, boosted by the success of new variety Glacier.

David Waite, northern seeds manager at distributor Frontier, also expects the winter barley area to be up as he sees the crop as key to good establishment of autumn-sown oilseed rape.

“The early start to oilseed rape drilling gives an indirect value to winter barley, especially as oilseed rape and winter wheat tend to come to harvest together.”
Jack Watts, HGCA analyst

“Oilseed rape sown behind winter barley generally looks better than after winter wheat as the seed is going into warmer soil,” he says.

Covering an area from Peterborough to John 0’ Groats, he says sales of both conventional and hybrid winter barley varieties are seeing a lift this season.

Jack Watts, HGCA analyst, says the last two late harvests have highlighted the advantages of winter barley in the rotation.

“The early start to oilseed rape drilling gives an indirect value to winter barley, especially as oilseed rape and winter wheat tend to come to harvest together,” he says.

Glacier from German breeder KWS is the highest-yielding two-row winter barley on the HGCA Recommended List and is attracting a lot of interest from growers.

Agrii’s Barker expects this feed variety to have jumped into second place with a market share of 15-20% just behind another KWS feed variety Cassia with a 25-30% share.

He adds the feed variety California from Limagrain is selling well in the west of the country while malting variety Venture from Syngenta is doing well in east, with Syngenta’s Volume the leading hybrid variety.

Winter wheat drilling is also expected to have increased, rising 20%-plus to about 2m ha, also due to the dry autumn weather.

Wet weather last autumn saw the 2013 harvest crop shrink 19% to 1.61m ha from 1.992m ha, but this season’s crop area could be towards 2000’s record area of 2.086m ha.

The increased winter wheat and barley areas are likely to come largely at the expense of spring barley.

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