Hybrid barley could be better bet than wheat
By Andrew Swallow
HYBRID varieties have yet to prove their place in cereals. Could barley be the crop to do it? A leading agronomist and a top grower in Scotland believe they could.
Trial yields of NFCs new six-row hybrid barley (see also p40) suggest it is a leap ahead of current top two and six-row varieties and possibly on a par with first wheat, says Allen Scobie of independent research and agronomy group Scottish Agronomy.
Combine that with an earlier harvest than wheat and better autumn vigour than conventional barleys and the new types seem set to be a boon for growers in the north, he says.
"Theres no question once these things come in it will be a fantastic lift for growers."
Trial work by Scottish Agronomy in central Scotland in 2000 saw the hybrid 13% ahead of the next nearest variety, Manitou. "Normally in trials people get excited about a 2% or 3% yield advantage. An advance of that sort of magnitude is colossal."
Other variety yields in that trial were typical for Recommended List work that year, so it is unlikely the hybrid result was a site anomaly, he adds. At 1.5t/ha (12cwt/acre) the yield difference was in a class of its own.
"Now we need to see that repeated in a commercial situation."
One grower who has the chance to do that this season is precision farming enthusiast Jim Wilson of Hilton of Fern, by Brechin in Angus.
Breeder Syngenta/New Farm Crops supplied him with enough seed for 4ha (10 acres) last autumn on the understanding that he put Siberia alongside it in the same field, adheres to the company agronomy package, and yield maps the harvest.
Both varieties were sown in the second week of September on a 6ha (15 acre) sandy loam field following spring barley. "We chose our most uniform field for the trial so we dont have a large amount of in-field variation," he comments.
Siberia was sown at the farms normal seed rate of 220kg/ha (1.8cwt/acre) aiming for 450-500 seeds/sq m and the hybrid at 80kg/ha (0.6cwt/acre).
"That wasnt an awful lot of seeds/sq m, about 150 I think, but the difference between the two varieties was visible immediately.
"Obviously the hybrid was slower to cover the ground, because there were less plants, but it was more vigorous and as it grew away in the spring it tillered strongly."
Head counts in mid-May revealed both crops had 700-800 tillers/sq m at awns emerging.
Pre-T2 both varieties had just a trace of rhynchosporium. That was thanks to the programme of autumn Unix (cyprodinil), Unix/Corbel (fenpropimorph) "T0" and Unix/Acanto (picoxystrobin) plus Moddus (trinexapac-ethyl) T1 programme.
"Rhynchosporium is the disease that causes us most problems up here," comments Mr Scobie. "Mildew should not be an issue but brown rust could be a slight weakness with the hybrid."
That is why he would like to see Amistar (azoxystrobin) applied as the T2 spray at awns emerged, he adds.
As for rhynchosporium he rates the hybrids resistance on a par with Muscat or Angela, both of which score eight on the Recommended List.
"An eight rating sounds good but we know both of these varieties are difficult to keep clean and a robust fungicide programme is required."
Nitrogen was applied in three doses totalling 200kg/ha (160 units/acre) to Mr Wilsons crop, the farm norm for winter barley. Whether the hybrid will top the farms expected winter barley yield of 8.6t/ha (3.5t/acre) remains to be seen.
"It has looked more vigorous all the way through, but as for the yield, ask me after weve combined it."
Rest assured farmers weekly will. *
When considering whether to grow winter wheat or winter barley it is important to compare like with like, says Mr Scobie. "Dont compare first wheat data with barley grown as a second cereal. The problem is that these are the rotational positions the crops are traditionally tested in. As a first cereal after a break crop these hybrid barleys could be even higher yielding," he suggests.
• Potential yield leap.
• More vigorous all season.
• Match 1st wheat with earlier harvest?
• Commercially available autumn 2003.