27 March 1998

Feed goal chosen for security

WITH over 81ha (200 acres) of winter barley in the ground this year, Suffolk grower Charles Mathieson decided to keep his end market options open by putting one-third of the area into a dual-purpose variety.

"Weve grown malting varieties on this farm for years," he admits. "But when we looked at the state of the malting trade last harvest, it seemed foolish to commit the entire barley area to such a depressed market."

As a result Puffin was replaced with Regina on the 350ha (865-acre) unit which is farmed as W A Howes & Son at Norton, near Bury St Edmunds.

After a winter-long waiting game, Mr Mathieson decided to concentrate on high-yielding feed this spring. "Well be applying 160kg/ha of nitrogen in three applications. The first lot was applied in the third week in February and the second application went on this week.

"The final application will be made in two to three weeks time, depending on the weather. Obviously were hoping to get much better yields than the 6-8t/ha we achieved in the past with specialist malting varieties.

Halcyon and Fanfare are now grown for malting, as well as Chariot after beet. A strip of Halcyon was drilled in the Regina area, so the new choice can be compared with an established malting variety.

Reasons other than the poor malting trade justified the dual-purpose variety, Mr Mathieson stresses. "We will sell the Regina straight off the combine for cash-flow purposes," he points out. "And it is better suited to our heavier land. When the vital decision about nitrogen had to be made, there was still no clear indication that malting premiums would be worth pursuing."

He believes that there will always be some malting barley grown at the Norton farm. "But the current economic climate dictates that it is foolish to have all our eggs in one basket. Regina allows us to keep our options open and this year we have decided to go for the feed market. Next year it could be worth managing it for a malting outlet."

On goes the N and the fate of this dual-purpose barley crop is decided. After last harvest all-malt is just too risky, says Suffolk grower Charles Mathieson.