Scots champ backs a simple system
A SIMPLE, low-labour system which grows just wheat and spring barley clinched top honours in the 1998 Institute of Brewing malting barley contest for Scotland.
"When I left school, I was 24th on the payroll on this farm," says Duncan Barr, Upper Dalhousie, Midlothian. "Today there is only my son Ian and myself, plus a little help from a neighbour at peak times."
Four years ago the last hired worker left and it was then that Mr Barr elected to concentrate on wheat and barley. "We were probably a little ahead of the game in growing for real markets. Wheat demand exceeds supply in Scotland and malting barley is something we can grow well on this farm."
Malting barley husbandry is so good Mr Barr has been a regular regional winner or runner up in the IoB contest, although this was his first overall championship.
His win was achieved with a sample of Optic which will account for two-thirds of the 150ha (375 acres) of spring barley being sown this year.
"Arable farming is no easier than livestock production and we treat every acre like an individual animal. Our land runs from pure sand in permanent set-aside to heavy ground best suited to continuous wheat.
"Our first step is the soil analysis of each field. We then tailor inputs accordingly. The last thing we want is a load of barley which does not meet malting standard. We try to sow into a good seed bed and are never in a rush to start sowing, but then try to finish the job as quickly as possible," says Mr Barr.
Nitrogen is applied in three doses, the final one by mid April. "We dont like a late application in case there is a drought and nitrogen is left in the soil and then absorbed late in the growing season. That plays havoc with nitrogen content of grain and we are aiming at less than 2%. We averaged 1.3% last year."
Weed control is given high priority, with an early quarter rate herbicide spray the preferred approach. "It is the same with mildew control. Prisma gets three treatments and Optic two, but we like to go in as soon as we can see mildew, because the move from a little to a serious outbreak can take only 24 hours in this area."
Great attention to detail is given at harvest with each load sampled off the combine, pre-cleaned, dried, dressed and then stored in 12 bins each holding 50 tonnes.
"At the end of the process samples are sent to our maltsters. They know they are truly representative of each field and we dont batch up the bins until results come back. We then like to move the grain quite quickly to make room for wheat," says Mr Barr.
His source of advice is the premium service from the Scottish Agricultural College which includes soil analysis, some crop walking, fire brigade consultancy if there is an acute problem, and information on the latest research and variety trials. *
• Minimal labour.
• Soil testing key.
• Acre by acre management.
• Optic favoured variety.
• Load by load grain sampling.
IoB barley champ for Scotland Duncan Barr favours detailed acre-by-acre crop husbandry.