19 July 2002

Winter barley for chop?

Winter barleys days may

be numbered at our

Management Matters farm

in the east, as next years

rotation is considered. But

as James Garner finds out

it is a tough call to make

THIS years harvest might be only days away at Hoe Hall in Norfolk, but plans for next years cropping are almost in place.

First to go under the combines knife this year will be oilseed rape, which should be ready next week after it was desiccated with glyphosate just over a fortnight ago.

But before the combines engines begin to roar into action to garner this years crop, arable manager Simon Brock has been putting the finishing touches on next years rotation.

"It is looking bad for winter barley. I have to ask myself is there any point growing winter barley at these prices?"

Price isnt the only consideration though, and in its favour is an early entry into oilseed rape and spreading harvest workload. This is fine if the crop is performing, but this years crop at Hoe Hall struggled for the first part of the year.

A dry spring perked it up and it might yield better than expected, but it will not come to much more than 6.5t/ha (2.6t/acre), says Mr Brock.

He puts the poor yield down to establishing barley in the last week of September in dreadful wet weather.

"Our soils are not free draining and its struggled since then – the crop looked awful and yellow for much of winter. It wont be brilliant but it might be better than expected at one stage."

A terrible barley trade forcing prices well below budget is the crops final downfall and, combined with poor yield, Mr Brock is expecting the winter barley gross margin to reach just £420/ha, compared with initial forecasts of £486/ha.

Winter barley has already been cut out of the rotation on the two heavier farms, but the remaining acreage might be trimmed further yet. "It is very variable, particularly when trying to establish it with big drilling equipment when the weather turns wet."

To replace it, Mr Brock foresees growing more second wheat, particularly if Napier can fulfil its promise with yields.

"I do worry about growing more second wheats, but Napier looks good this year, so perhaps we will grow a bit more next year.

"So the priority will be to major on first wheats, tempered with some seconds, and winter barley will be confined to the light soils. At most we will grow 50-60ha of barley," he adds.

The farm doesnt grow group 1 and 2 milling wheats, because milling premiums are hard to come by on its soils and it is a fair distance to haul grain to the nearest mill.

This years wheat crop has been mainly made up of group 3 soft wheats, Claire and Consort. Some Tanker has also been grown, but Mr Brock has concerns about its specific weight. He also harbours some concerns over Claire and might grow more out-and-out feed wheats, such as Access, next year.

"I am starting to get a bit worried about Claires susceptibility to mildew – it has come in at the end of this year. I just wonder with everyone growing it, that it might become more of a problem."

Strobulurins Opera and Twist work well at controlling septoria in Claire, but mildew is more of a problem and some of this years crop required a covering of morpholine, which cost another £10/ha.

About 80% of the wheat received an ear spray of Amistar and Folicur, but the poorer later-sown wheat was left, as he couldnt justify the expense.

Even so, wheat yields should hit target, with the last budget predicting 8.75t/ha (3.5t/acre) at £64/t. Now it is down to grain managers at local grain group SEFA and Grainfarmers to ensure wheat hits its target price, although some has recently been sold for £62.50/t for November movement.

"We have saved about £10/t on variable costs, which means we should end up with a gross margin of £530-540/ha." Thats slightly ahead of the revised budget of £525, but behind initial forecasts of £590, when wheat was expected to trade for £68/t.

Oilseed rape looks likely to creep over the £500/ha mark and beat budget.

"For a break crop to earn over £500/ha gross margin is very refreshing, but theres still a long way to go. It looks good, especially on the heavier land where it is wall-to-wall crop. I hope it will yield high 3t/ha, it might even touch 4t."

It has suffered little sclerotinia and botrytis, so the omens bode well and with variable costs trimmed by about £11/ha over the growing season, and with potential oil bonuses, a gross margin of £540/ha could be on the cards.

Next year, it will remain the farms biggest break crop with 140ha (346 acres) being grown. Sugar beet will be restricted to the lighter land along with vining peas. Beans will make up the rest of the break acreage, although fewer acres may be grown than last year.

As the rape harvest fast approaches a welcome change in weather has put a smile on Mr Brocks face. Lets hope summer is here at last. "The dull grey weather is a concern. We need some sun to fill the ears," he says. &#42

Barely enough…winter barleys area could be limited further at Hoe Hall, says Simon Brock, who is inspecting Pearl with his son George.

&#8226 Swanton Morley Farms, based near Dereham, Norfolk, is an 890ha (2200 acres) largely arable unit managed as a family partnership by James Keith and his wife Victoria.

&#8226 Arable crops cover 90% of the unit. Wheat grown on medium sandy loam soil goes as feed. Barley goes for malting. Sugar beet is also grown. A further 182ha (450 acres) is contract farmed locally.

&#8226 The farm also runs a 300-sow organic pig herd. A 26-cow suckler herd grazes parkland.

&#8226 A number of cottages are let.

&#8226 Farm staff of 7.