THE DEBATE regarding winter barley in the rotation has been fuelled by another reasonable gross margin for the 2004 harvest.

Yielding 8.12t/ha (3.28t/acre) of Pearl at a nitrogen reading below 1.8, the barley made an average price of £78.10/t, net of small deductions for moisture, weighbridge fees and levies. That was for early August movement, September payment, hence the difficulty in being able to dry it down thoroughly before loading.

With a pig unit largely dependent on straw for bedding, the barley crop provides us with an added bonus. The figure in the table shows an output for straw sales less the contract charge for baling.

Our five-year average output for barley is £870/ha (£352/acre) and the mean yield for the same period is 7.5t/ha (3t/acre), at an average price of £71.40/t.

However, the variable costs have risen to take some of the shine off this result. The total is the highest for four years. Seed is marginally up due to increased seed rates, while fertiliser is higher, too, due to the inclusion of phosphate and potash in the rotation.

The total figure for fertiliser can be split down to £32.34/ha (£13.09/acre) for nitrogen and £42.19/ha (£17.08/acre) for straights.

Spray costs look high for harvest 2004 compared with the previous year. That’s only to be expected because in 2003 we suffered a prolonged draught for most of the spring and summer, with little or no need for growth regulators and a very reduced fungicide programme.

Herbicide costs for 2003 were noticeably high due in the main to graminicides being used at Sacrewell Lodge, where all the barley was grown that year. By comparison, the barley for 2004 harvest was all grown at Easton Lodge.

Regardless of our intention to simplify the rotation by growing all barley on one farm and oilseed rape on the other in alternate years, we have broken our pledge and have barley growing on both for 2005 harvest.

That’s primarily in an effort to cut down on the area of second wheats grown, partly due to the increased cost of production. With both a yield and price penalty for growing second wheat, the best option appears to be barley, the malting premium providing the icing on the cake.

On free-draining lighter land, barley has a better chance of beating the drought as well as spreading the harvest. The straw is a valuable by-product and land cleared early can be spread with pig slurry and seedbeds prepared for oilseed rape before the end of August.

The drilling date comes after the early-sown wheats and we have usually been successful in ploughing and power harrow/drilling sequentially in late September, early October.

For the moment, at least, we will continue to back barley as the first choice grown as a second white straw crop.