Blends push yield limits
Blends of barley
varieties and aggressive
use of inputs are helping
grower push back winter
barley yield barriers.
Andrew Swallow reports
FASTER combining, less disease, and more grain. Those are the key benefits of growing barley blends, says an Aberdeenshire grower, who is pushing the crop to near record yields at Moss-side Farm, Oldmeldrum.
Iain Davidson started growing a Muscat/Regina blend on the basis of farm trial results which showed the blend slashed disease incidence and boosted yield.
"Muscat alone yields well but it takes net blotch bad, whereas the blend doesnt. Side by side in trials that were all sprayed the same the difference was devastating," he recalls.
A yield advantage of 0.2-0.4t/ha (2-3cwt/acre) was recorded and he also noted that the Muscat in the blend wasnt as tall as the straight variety. Similar benefits have been seen with a more recent mix of Angela and Pastoral.
"The Angela/Pastoral blend combines about 30% faster than straight Angela, as well as yielding another 2-3 cwt/acre over Muscat/Regina." The two blends make up all his commercial area this year.
Some potential income from straw sales is foregone due to the shorter crop, he concedes, but getting the crop cut in good time is more important, he believes.
"Speed of harvest is critical to us with 260-270 acres of winter barley to cut and oilseed rape ready right behind it."
It also allows plenty of time to prepare seed-beds for following winter oilseed rape and often means the yield-meter equipped Claas Mega 208 combine can be used to earn extra income, contract combining neighbours spring barley and winter wheat, he adds.
Every possible protection is given to the winter barley to help it reach the limit of its potential.
"We are out to grow 4t/acre of barley, not 3t, or 3.5t, so we treat it as if it is going to yield 4t/acre," says Mr Davidson.
Split Terpal (2-chloroethylphosphonic acid + mepiquat chloride) treatments go on at flag leaf emerging and awns peeping, following doses of chlormequat at GS28 and GS31.
Fungicides Torch (spiroxamine) and Sanction (flusilazole) went on with the GS28 application, and Unix (cyprodinil) and Acanto (picoxystrobin) at GS31. Acanto plus Opus (epoxicaonazole) and a low rate of straight Opus were added to the Terpal applications.
"Then I applied a Twist/Caramba earwash in June to keep the awns and the flag leaf green. Where growers didnt use an earwash their crops are dying due to ramularia."
That five pass spring programme follows an October weed spray which also has a fungicide added, Mantra (kresoxim-methyl + epoxiconazole + fenpropimorph) last autumn, to take out rhynchosporium and mildew.
Mr Davidson believes all his inputs are justified. Other growers may not spend as much but they will lose more in yield than they save in cost, he maintains.
"We always look to average 3.5t/acre dried and have not been below that in the past five or six years. Last year we did 72-73cwt/acre but the year before it was over 4t."
Nitrogen has not been the driver for increasing output, he adds. "We are not using a lot. I find the minute you go over 120-130 units/acre the yield drops."
However, he swears by combination drilling seed with about 125kg/ha of an 8:24:24 compound in the autumn, followed by a similar amount spread on once the crop has emerged.
"The combined drilling is really important. The crop is a lot more even and gets off to a good start – it is a big benefit." *
"The same variety grows about 4in shorter in a blend," says grower Iain Davidson who is pushing winter barley yield to its limit in Aberdeenshire.
• Faster combining.
• Less lodging, less disease.
• More yield.
Grain: 9.3t/ha @ £65* 604
Area aid: 240
Seed and fertiliser: 127
Total Var Costs: 241
Gross margin: 603
* Based on intervention price but actually fed to pigs on farm.
Ten year do-it-yourself farm trial
Mr Davidsons findings on blends are just one outcome of over 10 years DIY trials work with winter barley and oilseed rape. "Any new variety that is coming out we put in and see how it performs on the farm. The aim is to stay one step ahead of the game," he comments. This year Syngentas hybrid barley is up against conventional six-rows Pict, Sequel, Angela and Rounder, plus a Muscat/Rounder blend and the farm standards of Muscat/Regina and Angela/Pastoral. "I am very interested in the hybrid but I believe the way to grow it too will be in a blend as the straw grows too long." Given his high input, high output regime, Mr Davidson reckons it could be the barley to beat the world record. "They are talking about maybe 15% more yield – thats a lot of grain if you are already growing 70-80cwt/acre."
One field of Mr Davidsons Muscat/Regina mix was running so well in August 2000 that he thought he could be onto a record breaker. "I phoned the college and asked them to get out here fast," he recalls. The yield was verified at 12.03t/ha (4.87t/acre) at 18% moisture, which initially was thought to be a new record. However, the weight had to be corrected to 15% moisture, which made it 11.81t/ha. So Stockton Park Leisures 12.2t/ha (4.94t/acre) record, off 21.29ha in 1998 at Edington Mains Farm, Chirnside, in the Scottish Borders still stands.
A barley mix could be the key to breaking the world barley yield record, says Iain Davidson.