7 February 1997

Growers change of variety brings a champion surprise

Switching to a new malting barley variety provided an unexpected bonus for a West Midlands grower.

Robert Harris reports

TRYING out a different malting barley brought Worcs farmer Adam Silvester bigger profits, as he had hoped. But it also landed an unexpected surprise – the Institute of Brewings malting barley championship of England and Wales.

"The rich sandy loam soils across much of the farm lend themselves to growing potentially excellent malting barley samples, says Mr Silvester, who grows 640ha (1600 acres) of combineable and root crops at Dunhampton Farm, Stourport-on-Severn.

He had entered the competition several times before with Alexis, without success. This year, his father John plumped for Derkado.

The switch is only part of the story. Mr Silvester takes great care to attain a malting sample. The crop follows sugar beet, taking the pressure off lifting the crop in time to plant winter wheat. Provided he gets that premium, he finds spring malting barley pays as well as late planted winter wheat.

"We only need to get 2t/acre of good malting barley to match a 3t wheat crop financially," he explains. "Variable costs are much cheaper, and the crop is easy to grow."

The key is getting the crop in early on his light soils, and keeping it well fed to ensure it makes quick early growth to weather later drought.

High yields start with cultivations. "We like to plough the ground in good condition." As much as possible is ploughed in the autumn, but if it turns wet he will stop and wait for it to dry. That safeguards soil structure, so plants can root freely and quickly.

The barley is sown in mid-February if soils are dry – dual wheels all round keep compaction to a minimum. Fields are then rolled.

All fertiliser is applied to the seed-bed, about six bags/ha (2.5 bags/acre) of 22:7:13. "We could perhaps up the nitrogen a bit to get a bit more yield. But its tricky balancing yield and quality, and looking at last years gross margin of £320/acre it pays not to be too greedy," says Mr Silvester.

Seed is treated with Raxil S to prevent leaf stripe, smut and seed-borne net blotch. It is also treated with manganese, and magnesium is applied at 2 litres/ha with the herbicide at the end of April, and again with fungicide in mid-June.

Both trace elements were found to be low, despite regular applications of magnesium limestone before sugar beet. "It came to light a couple of years ago. Spring barley started to suffer in the summer, and I suspected something other than drought."

A tissue analysis showed both manganese and magnesium were short. Further soil sampling confirmed that. By curing the shortage, Mr Silvester maintains crops stay green and healthy longer and are less prone to drought.

Mr Silvesters detailed management paid off. The crop yielded 5t/ha (2t/acre) of high quality grain. Dalgety supplied the seed and entered the sample into the competition. "The Derkado produced an exceptionally clean and bold sample which received an excellent malting premium," says Finmere-based Philip Tisdale .

Analysis showed a N content of 1.27-1.43%, 1-1.39% screenings, a specific weight of 68-70kg/hl and 12% moisture content. Mr Silvester sold it in September, before prices fell, for £150/t.

Carefully managed spring barley and a variety swap won the day for Worcs farmer Adam Silvester (inset).


&#8226 Derkado spring barley.

&#8226 Follow beet on sandy loam.

&#8226 Drill early and feed well for fast early growth.

&#8226 Seed-bed 22:7:13 only.

&#8226 Tissue test for nutrients.