27 February 1998

BEST BARLEY DESPITE RISK

A BLOCK of land surrounded by the sprawling urbanisation of Liverpool, and which still bears the scars of World War II bombs dropped on farmland close to the city, produced last years best crop of malting barley in England and Wales.

John Halsall and John Garton-Pope, who farm as A Garton and Sons, Millbridge Farm, Tarbock, Liverpool, have 240ha (600 acres) run in two units. Cropping in-cludes oilseed rape, spring barley, winter wheat and winter barley.

Farming so close to Liverpool imposes serious restrictions on the way the farm is run. The partners no longer keep any beef cattle because of the risks to stock posed by vandals. There is also a long-running problem of fields of straw being set-alight after harvesting.

"We had a barn set on fire in October; this time they didnt manage to burn it down but two previous buildings on the same site have been destroyed by fire," says Mr Halsall.

Despite the IoB competition win the farm is shunning local publicity. "We could end up with an invasion by hoards of home-brewers from the surrounding housing estates," says Mr Garton-Pope.

Feed barley has long been grown on the farm, the area of spring barley increasing over the past five years to spread the workload. "But its also fitted in well with some of our wetter land which has some dips and pockets left by bombs dropped in the Second World War," says Mr Halsall. "The tendency of these areas to hold water during the winter makes them more suited to spring sowing."

Although the partners have only grown malting barley for two years they have achieved remarkable success. In their first season they won the top regional award in the national malting barley competition from a sample taken from a total yield of 75t of Chariot.

The 1997 national title was won with a crop of Cooper after seed suppliers Fishers were impressed with a sample and made the entry.

The block of 16ha (40 acres) was ploughed in January and sowed with Cooper on April 4. Seed rate was 188kg/ha (1.5cwt/acre) with 376kg/ha (3cwt/acre) of 28:8:11 fertiliser applied through the drill.

"If you drill too early on this land it will germinate and then stop and take a check. Our aim is to get the seed in at a time when we believe the crop will come through and keep growing," says Mr Garton-Pope.

They attribute their success to attention to detail, a policy applied to the entire cropping programme. "We always clean out seed drills thoroughly between sowings, we store varieties separately and are strict about the cleanliness of storage bins and the drier."

The crop received no fungicide and was sprayed for weeds only once in mid-May. When harvested in mid-August it yielded almost 5t/ha (2t/acre).

"We prefer to take the crop a little early. Wed rather have it in the yard a bit before it ripens and sort it out with the drier. Ideally we want it out of the drier at 14%," says Mr Garton-Pope. &#42

Liverpools urban fringe was the unlikely location for John Halsall (left) and John Garton-Pope to grow their award-winning malting barley.

LIVERPOOL BARLEY BOYS

&#8226 John Halsall and John Garton-Pope farm Millbridge Farm, on Liverpools urban fringe.

&#8226 IoB Malting Barley Award winners with 5t/ha Cooper.

&#8226 Right drilling date vital.