Return to spring barley proves a prudent choice
By Louise Impey
SPRING barley found its way into the rotation on a Cambs farm for the first time in many years last season. Good results mean it could be grown again in future.
Farming just over 404ha (1000 acres) in three blocks, on a variety of soil types, the normal rotation at L Webster & Sons is two wheats followed by oilseed rape.
But the combination of taking on more land and a very wet autumn last year extended drilling beyond Christmas. "We gave up trying to put Hereward in on Jan 5," says Daniel Webster. "The land had been getting wetter and wetter, so when the frost went we had to change our plans. It was also getting too late to establish Hereward."
Linseed was considered, but the Websters were keen to keep the intended rotation. It was too wet for spring wheat, so spring barley was agreed on.
"The spring crop hasnt been grown here since my fathers reign," says Robert Webster. "The reasons are simple. I wanted to keep fields clear of barley volunteers and our on-floor storage was only split into two, so it would have been difficult to keep crops segregated."
Buying some Camgrain storage eased store concerns and gave access to marketing expertise. Agronomic advice was sought from several sources, including ARC.
"We drilled Optic on Apr 1, having sprayed off the seed-bed created earlier in the year a few days before with Sting," says Daniel. "We knew we had resistant blackgrass on the new land, so we needed to get rid of it before the crop went in."
As the crop was destined for malting, so nitrogen was applied in one dose once tramlines were visible on Apr 15. Phosphate was added on Apr 28.
Weed control targeted broad-leaved weeds, particularly cleavers. "The grass weed problem was taken care of with Sting before drilling, so herbicide costs were low," adds Daniel.
Fungicide costs were also a nice surprise. "We used two applications of an Opus/Amistar mix – the first at GS30 and the second at flag leaf, just as the awns were appearing. The crop was very clean, so we were able to use low doses."
Daniel believes rain during mid-April and grain fill helped give a yield of 6.7t/ha (2.7t/acre). "We were lucky with the seed-bed and the weather. The crop looked very well throughout and we were expecting good results. Unfortu-nately, the amount of rain in August meant quality suffered, so the premium was lost."
But low input and cultivation costs mean crop margin was still close to winter barley and not far behind wheat. "The workload implications were also good – we were only doing fertiliser on the autumn drilled cereals when we had to get this crop in the ground."
Although the Websters intend to return to wheat this autumn, they wont dismiss spring barley in future. "Now that the export market is looking for higher nitrogens, which we can achieve on the heavier land, we think spring barley is a good choice for some of the dirtier fields which have a big grass weed burden," says Daniel.
"But the main drawback on this farm is that the land has to be dry enough in April to be able to drill spring crops." *
SPRING BARLEY SWITCH
• Wet autumn forced choice.
• Optic sown Apr 1.
• Yield 6.7t/ha, but no premium.
• Low costs mean margin similar to w barley and not far behind w wheat.
• May be grown again.