Reluctance all round for a change of varieties
In the second of our series profiling finalists in the Barley-to-Beer competition organised by farmers weekly, Du Pont, The Beeston Malting Company and Pilgrim Ales, Andrew Blake reports from the north and west regions
SWITCHING barley varieties is not something North Humberside-based Caley Sackur does lightly. He has grown malting types successfully for 10 years on his 567ha (1400-acre) mainly arable Lodge Farm at Tibthorpe, Driffield.
Halcyon winter barley has been his mainstay recently. A small area of Cooper this season reflects changes in set-aside rather than a firm decision to turn to spring types.
"I am very reluctant to change because brewers are very slow to change." Let other growers test potentially higher-yielding types first is his philosophy. "It is the market that counts," he stresses.
Indeed Avalon wheat, officially outclassed, still has a place on the farm, servicing a good local outlet.
"We have never grown Puffin because I think we can grow nearly as much Halcyon, and with the price we can get it stacks up well." With a normal premium of £40-45/t over feed, the rewards nearly match those of best milling wheat on the medium clay loam over chalk, he maintains. "Gross margin on our Halcyon last year was £360/acre." Average yield over the past three years has been 7.2t/ha (2.87t/acre) with a mean nitrogen of 1.51%. "We are fairly confident we can get the quality. The nitrogen is generally low enough for quality bitters."
Barley generally follows one or two wheats to exploit the less fertile slot in the rotation. Ploughing for a good clean start is vital, he says. "We plough everything. We dont want wheat in the barley."
A new 6m KRM power harrow/ drill combination aiming to establish 300 plants a sq m follows about September 20. "I am pleased with it – it gives a very even stand."
Although there is an element of luck involved in growing a good sample, sound husbandry does much to offset the risks, he suggests. "A lot of it is in our own hands, especially the amount of nitrogen used and its timing. Our malting barley always gets priority because that is critical."
His competition entry, after vining peas and wheat, received 141kg/ha (113 units/acre) of N as ammonium nitrate in two dressings – early and late March – to boost uptake and cut leaching.
To date Mr Sackur has not felt the need to assess residual soil N. "The tests vary so much I wonder whether we would get anything out of it." Seed-bed N is inherently low because of the rotation, he maintains. But he tries to store different fields separately at harvest to protect lower N samples. Grain from headlands and laid patches is also kept separate.
Ferrax (ethirimol + flutriafol + thiabendazole) seed dressing usually insures against having to use autumn fungicide, though two applications of insecticide were needed last autumn to ward off virus-bearing aphids.
A relatively new 24m Gem Sapphire sprayer capable of 80ha (200 acres) a day ensures timely fungicide treatment. Its four-wheel steer avoids unnecessary wheelings, which can lead to poor, high N samples, he adds.
One of his main wishes in new varieties is stiffer straw. "Halcyons standing power is not good, which is critical up here. So we have to get the management right." A dual spray of Adjust (chlormequat) to strengthen the roots and counter lodging is vital.
With rhynchosporium and to a lesser extent net blotch and mildew the main diseases, flusilazole is his accepted first choice fungicide, morpholines and MBC added or omitted as the pressure dictates. *
Caley Sackur controls many crop inputs on his quest for good malting samples – but moisture is not one of them!