Faith in Maris Otter produces a prize sample
A Hants growers faith in an
apparently outdated winter
variety has helped him
become outright winner in
this years Dupont/FW
Andrew Blake reports
MALTSTER-FRIENDLY but relatively low yielding Maris Otter, supported by modern agrochemicals, gave John Chalcraft the best sample. And in a close fought battle with five other finalists the judges agreed his sound knowledge of markets and husbandry made him the worthy overall winner.
His sample, at 1.3% the lowest for N content, came from 13.6ha (37 acres) of mainly Grade 3 light chalky loam at New Farm, Kings Somborne, where his father and grandfather also grew malting barley successfully.
The farm, which gets about 660mm (26in) of rain in a normal season, also grows wheat for seed and both milling and malting, spring barley, soya beans, sugar beet for seed, feed peas and commercial oilseed rape.
Maris Otter, dropped from the Recommended List in 1989, recently gained a new lease of life largely through the enthusiasm of local merchant Robin Appel, Mr Chalcraft explains. Although the variety is prone to disease, especially mildew and rhynchosporium, a robust fungicide programme can produce good results, he maintains.
He returned to winter malting types in earnest about six years ago with Halcyon and Puffin. But niche contracts for specialist ales offering more reliable premiums tempted him to switch to Otter. He also grows Melanie under a three-year WHD Elite Malt Scheme contract.
"Our security is knowing that the maltster actually wants what we produce and even in problem years will endeavour to take it. The first year we grew Otter we got 45cwt/acre and quite a good gross margin." This years budgeted premium over a £70/t base price was £65/t for a maximum 1.5%N.
With many of his other crops for seed, 1998 budget estimates suggested that Otter for malting at only 4.9t/ha (2t/acre) was likely to be more rewarding than growing an 8t/ha (3.25t/acre) crop of Hanna feed barley for C2 seed.
In the event this years competition crop disappointed on yield, delivering only an estimated 4.1t/ha (1.7t/acre). But Mr Chalcraft is convinced the reason is too little nitrogen on a crop following winter wheat and two spring barleys.
The less fertile soils are clearly suited to producing malting barley, and fields at the end of a rotation tend to be chosen to avoid problems from residual nitrogen. With premiums closely linked to N content that is vital, he explains.
He uses information from several local sources to optimise his growing system. These include the ARCs Hants trials site, NIAB trials at nearby ADAS Bridgets, and ADAS itself for soil mineral N testing. Local Cleanacres agronomist Tom Blanchards advice on fine tuning pesticide inputs is particularly valued, but spray decisions are always made jointly, he stresses.
"I do all the spraying myself, often in the evenings, to get the timing as right as possible." An MBTrac-mounted Airtec sprayer operating at 120litres/ha is especially useful in being able to get round quickly when disease threatens, he adds.
Since using ADAS for soil-N tests, excess grain nitrogen has not been a problem. "But I think we may have sacrificed some yield." This years recommendation of 70kg/ha (56 units/acre) for the Oct 10-sown crop, split between Feb 21 and Mar 12 dressings, was clearly not enough, he believes.
Despite the varietys poor disease defences a two-spray fungicide programme was sufficient to keep the crop clean and screenings low. The first application on Mar 20 at stem elongation (GS30) consisted of 0.5litres/ha Justice (fenpropimorph + flusilazole + tridemorph) with 200g/ha Derosal WDG (carbendazim) plus manganese and copper. The second, on May 4 at third node (GS33), had the same dose of Justice with 0.2litres/ha Lyric (flusilazole), with more Derosal and copper and included 0.7litres/ha of Cyclade (2-chloroethylphosphonic acid + mepiquat chloride + chlormequat) growth regulator.
A planned early June spray was unnecessary. "By the end of May the fungicides were still doing their job," says Mr Chalcraft.
Pure certified seed is always his starting point, and he pays tribute to PBI Cambridge as maintainers of Maris Otter. "We used to see all sorts of grain colours. But I have noticed how the seed stocks have improved and are now very even."
Anticipating crop assurance demands, for the past three years details of all chemical inputs have voluntarily been supplied with the end grain, he adds. "With malting barley you have to remember that it is eventually going into a bottle from which someone will drink." *
• Moisture 15%.
• Nitrogen 1.3%.
• Screenings 1.0% (through 2.25mm).
• Germination 100%.
Were it not for his grain sample, at 1.65% N the highest of the six finalists, Mark Smith would have been vying for the overall title. With hindsight the nitrogen top-dressing to his mid-March sown Chariot was a bit too much to achieve top premium. But his detailed knowledge of husbandry needs at Broomfield, Brechin, Angus, including specific manganese and sulphur inputs, won him the best husbandry award.