14 June 1996

Fungicides boost the outclassed

BRIAN Lock believes modern fungicides are one of the main reasons why he can still make money by growing an officially "outclassed" malting variety on his 200ha (500 acres) of rented land at Silverlake House, Sherbourne, Dorset.

Without triazoles such as Punch C (carbendazim + flusilazole) and in future, he hopes, Opus (epoxiconazole) not yet approved by the Brewers and Licensed Retailers Association, his battle to protect Maris Otter against rhynchosporium and net blotch, would be lost, he suspects.

The variety was reintroduced three years ago. Along with Pipkin and the spring varieties Chariot and Cooper, it gives him his second best gross margins after another specialist crop – grass for seed.

Spring barley, with Cooper giving 7.3t/ha (2.9t/acre) last year, nearly always yields better on the farms mainly stone brash. But the risks of having all the crop spring sown provides a good opening to exploit the 30,000t a year niche market for Maris Otter developed by Bishops Waltham merchant Robin Appel, he explains. "I am just not bold enough to grow all spring types."

Mr Lock has used ADASs soil nitrogen analysis service for the past two seasons. "So far it is giving us a better handle on top dressing needs. But I did query the 50 units/acre it advised on the Otter this year – it doesnt seem very much. We normally use 80-90 units on our Pipkin."

Relatively poor land is another key to a good malting barley sample, says Mr Lock. "We cannot begin to grow it on our river land."

Winter variety sowing, with a conventional MF500 drill, rarely takes place before the last week in September to ease autumn disease pressures. "We never spray in the autumn with a fungicide."

At the other end of the season careful harvesting and drying is vital to preserve grain quality, he explains. "The most important thing with combining is not to take the awns off too tightly." Setting the concave too tightly can damage the essential germ.

Maris Otter is always dried on a ventilated floor also used for the grass seed, he adds. "It is just too valuable to put through the drier. And I am reluctant to harvest it at more than 18% moisture."

Once down to 13% the grain can be held safely until the following May if need be, provided it is kept well blown, he maintains. "With low volume ventilation we have never had any germination problems." &#42

Brian Lock awaits the outcome of an unusually low nitrogen recommendation in his Maris Otter.