28 May 1999

Look to barley for better break crop returns

By Andrew Swallow

FOR the most profitable rotation under Agenda 2000, many growers must go back to growing barley, says CPB Twyford.

Pulses are an unprofitable break for many, but oilseed rape cannot be grown too close in the rotation for fear of diseases such as club-root. That means growing a third and even fourth cereal between oilseed rape crops.

"Barley beats a third wheat everytime," says technical director John Blackman. Malting may be an option on light land, but for most wheat and rape growers, going for yield is the best bet, he says.

Many have forgotten how to grow high yielding barley, Yields of 10t/ha (4t/acre) are possible with modern varieties, he says. "We regularly top 10t/ha in trials with barley."

But to do that crops must be drilled early, stand and be given enough nitrogen. "If you expect them to yield like second wheat, then you have to give them the nitrogen to do that," he stresses. But just as in wheat, nitrogen must not be applied too early (Arable, May 21).

"There should be a ban on nitrogen applications before April for cereals in general – malting crops might be the only exception," he adds.

Disease control is fundamental, too, with particular attention paid to net blotch. "It can wipe out the crop if it is not targeted," he warns.

Mr Blackman dismisses the theory that barley is more drought tolerant than wheat. At anthesis soluble stem sugar in Equinox is typically 35%, whereas in barley it is only 10-20%.

"I think many farmers have got it wrong, thinking barley is a light land crop. It is actually intolerant of drought. Once it starts to senesce, that is it."

As with wheats, varieties for early sowing must be selected to avoid types which develop too early in spring and risk frost damage to the ears. For example, Heligan can go in from the beginning of September, but Vertige is not suitable for drilling before mid-September, he says.

Gross margin from a second wheat followed by barley should exceed a second and third wheat sequence by £120/ha (£49/acre) calculates marketing manager Mary Munley. "Which means the tail end of the rotation is also reasonably profitable," she says. &#42