19 December 1997

Depth of knowledge brings winners title

A Lincolnshire growers

experience has triumphed

alongside technology to help

him become outright winner

of this years Dupont/FW

Barley-to Beer competition.

Andrew Blake reports

HAVING gained the best husbandry award in the 1995/96 contest, Mark Ireland had hoped scientific fine tuning of nitrogen use would bring him the overall award this year.

In the event first-hand knowledge of his land and its needs did the trick at 1008ha (2490 acres) Heath Farm, North Rauceby, Sleaford, part of which is in a Nitrate Sensitive Area. Ignoring advice based on ADAS soil mineral N tests and opting for a more conservative level of inputs turned in the winning sample.

In a tough contest, the judges deemed this, combined with his high scores for general agronomy, made him the outright winner.

Initial concern that the dry spring on the light heath would lead to late nitrogen uptake and a high N sample proved unfounded. But nearly 200mm (8in) of rain in June and July meant that at 1.47N Mr Irelands Cooper just had the lowest level of the six finalists.

This, along with low screenings and good germination, made it the most acceptable sample for brewing the winning pale ale, according to competition maltster Chris Garratt of Warminster Maltings.

The winning entry came from a 16ha (40-acre) field of calcareous sandy loam.

Until recently Mr Ireland avoided contract malting production. "Until you harvest it you do not know what you have to market," he says. That approach may have to change, he admits. "I believe contact between grower and maltster will only get stronger in the coming years."

His policy is to choose varieties known to be in demand by maltsters when grown to a plan. "We aim to produce for the premium malting trade, hoping for nitrogens of 1.5-1.7. As a back up for higher nitrogen barley we look to sell to the lager/export trade."

This year about 40% of the farm was malting barley, over half in spring varieties Cooper, Chariot and Optic.

Drilling rate for the competition crop was 201kg/ha (179lb/ acre) of Raxil S- (tebuconazole + triazoxide) treated seed. That rate was mainly TGW-driven, but also quite high to allow for known wheat bulb fly problems and inevitable losses to rooks from early sowing.

Ploughing to 17.5-20cm (7/8in), pressing and drilling with a 4m Kuhn/Accord combination unit were all carried out on the same day. Earlier ploughing risks a wet stodgy seed-bed that is slow to dry out, he explains.

Despite being drilled in mid-Jan, this years crops struggled until it received 64mm (2.5in) of rain in late April and May. "They were looking pretty disastrous. We have no irrigation."

An added worry was mildew, which hit both the Optic and the winning variety quite badly despite their NIAB resistance ratings of 7, he notes. A split treatment of Patrol (fenpropidin) and Genie (flusilazole) in mid-April held the disease at bay for a month. "But it then exploded."

Subsequent tank mixes of Corbel (fenpropimorph)/Genie on May 25 and Radar (propiconazole)/carbendazim on June 10 managed to contain the disease.

N input consisted of 252kg/ha (2cwt/acre) of 5:15:30 compound in the seed-bed and a single end of February dressing of Nitram giving a total of 91.8kgN/ha (73 units N/acre). That was 57kg/ha (46 units/acre) less than suggested by the soil mineral N tests.

A small trial area given the advised amount yielded 0.27t/ha (2.2cwt/acre) extra at a similar N level. "So it would have been worth doing," comments Mr Ireland. But the summers downpours, which he expects washed much of the nitrogen away and contributed to his lowest ever grain N levels in both winter and spring varieties, mean he will not be changing his fertiliser policy in a hurry. &#42

Best barley grower in the land bar none – Mark Irelands husbandry skills, industry knowledge and top-notch sample of Cooper spring barley won him top honours in this years Barley-to-Beer competition.

WINNING SAMPLE

&#8226 Moisture 13.6%.

&#8226 Nitrogen 1.47%.

&#8226 Screenings:

Through 2.25mm screen 1.2%.

Over 2.5mm screen 94.6%.

&#8226 Germination (4ml water) 94%.

Agronomy winner

Snapping at Mr Irelands heels was Nick Baker, of Bainton Heights Farm, Driffield, East Yorks. He wins the award for best husbandry, but was let down at the last hurdle by relatively high screenings and high nitrogen in his sample of Halcyon. The variety has served him well over the years. But increased screenings, possibly linked to magnesium shortage, have given him some concern recently, he admits.

Nick Baker impressed the judges with his "keep it clean from the outset" approach to disease control.