31 May 2002

Barley set to rock rotation

By Charles Abel

REVOLUTIONARY six-row hybrid barley varieties remain on track to give the Cinderella crop a major boost next autumn, giving second wheats a run for their money and even competing with first wheats on more marginal sites.

In trials New Farm Crops hybrids have delivered a 19% yield advantage over mainstream winter barleys for two years running. Now the breeder says the gap could be wider still with the right agronomy.

Trials on 40 sites around the UK show hybrid vigour is best exploited by adjusting seed rate, nitrogen rate and timing and pgr regime. "Vigour is the key," explains product development manager Simon Phillips.

In national list trials last year hybrid NFC 200-57 gave an extra 1t/ha over the current six-row standard Muscat and 1.72t/ha over Pearl, the most popular winter barley in the ground, says European marketing manager Gary Mills-Thomas.

Compared with conventional six-row barleys the new hybrids offer 10% more yield and better specific weight, NFC 200-57 averaging 67.2kg/hl compared with 66.9kg/hl for Muscat.

"Its a revolution for winter barley and for the whole rotation, particularly if the potential comes through on more marginal soils and compared with second wheats," enthuses Mr Mills-Thomas.

NFC work shows the extra yield stems from a host of factors, including better plant survival, 13% more tillers per plant, more grains per ear and consistently larger and heavier grains. "If we could put all the factors in one variety we would be looking at an extra 2t/ha," says breeder Paul Bury. "It is something to aim for."

Agronomy work shows hybrids need 25% less nitrogen. In one trial the top hybrid yield of 11.92t/ha came with 150kgN/ha, whereas a conventional six-row barley required 210kgN/ha to peak at 10.84t/ha. Better scavenging by a bigger root system is probably the reason.

Seed rates can be at least 30% lower, thanks to prolific tillering and better over-winter survival.

Nitrogen timing trials show treatment needs to be earlier than normal, to support strong early spring growth before earlier than normal ripening, says Mr Phillips. High input pgrprogrammes also deliver enhanced results.

On more marginal sites, where winter barley typically yields 6t/ha, the hybrid benefit is even greater. In one stressed trial last year the top hybrid outyielded six-row Pict by 30% and Siberia and Muscat by 20%.

Seed production, using the same low cost blend approach as hybrid rye, will provide enough seed for a 1-2% market share next autumn. But while seed growing will be far cheaper than for hybrid wheat, seed prices will reflect yield uplift not cost.

Main concern for the new hybrids is poor brown rust resistance, which could jeopardise entry into recommended list trials. However, brown rust is simple to control, of little concern in Scotland and should be outweighed by the big yield benefits, says Mr Mills-Thomas. "It would be hard to argue against such a positive yield benefit with farming as it is."

Second generation hybrids promise better brown rust resistance and even better specific weight, says Mr Bury. Two such lines are in first year NL trials and five more could enter this autumn. Two row hybrids are also being developed.

&#8226 See p48 for more on hybrids. &#42

HYBRIDBARLEY

&#8226 19% more yield than current standards.

&#8226 10% ahead of latest six-rows.

&#8226 30% advantage on stressed/more marginal sites.

&#8226 Fine-tuned agronomy could push yields further.

&#8226 Six-row cropping up from 2% to 7% of winter barley area.

New conventionals

&#8226 Sequel six-row winter barley is set to pave the way for hybrids, says Mr Mills-Thomas. Yield is on a par with Siberia and Pict and almost 1t/ha ahead of Pearl, but sets a new standard for six-row specific weight, averaging 70.6kg/hl in trials. Straw strength is similar to Muscat/Pearl. A C1 seed launch at Cereals 2002 aims for a 5% market share in autumn 2003.

&#8226 Pedigree offers malting potential at top two-row barley yield, scoring 105 in NIAB Fitcon analysis compared with 104 for new feed type Carat and 99 for dual-purpose types Pearl and Regina. Hot water extract scores 306.7 and specific weight 71.1kg/hl, both beating Regina and Fanfare.