Farmer Focus: Better premiums see return to malting barley

It’s not often we get a kind January and a kind February in these parts. Certainly, it’s been a while since land has travelled so well for the time of year, so have we succumbed to the “fool’s spring”? A little bit.

Urea has gone onto winter combinables, albeit at a reduced rate of 45kgN/ha, just enough to prevent crops becoming too stressed as the early March weather has seen a return to winter.

See also: Will arable farmers opt for Sustainable Farming Incentive?

About the author

Andrew Wilson
Arable Farmer Focus writer Andrew Wilson is a fourth-generation tenant of Castle Howard Estate in North Yorkshire. The farm supports crops of wheat, barley, oats, beans, sugar beet, potatoes, and grass for hay across 250ha. Other enterprises include bed and breakfast pigs, environmental stewardship, rooftop solar and contracting work.  
Read more articles by Andrew Wilson

We have sown some Lynx spring beans, but have held off with spring barley and oats for now – in my opinion, any spring crop needs to be up and away quickly to thrive, not held back by cold, wet conditions in its early stages.

I’m contemplating a return to spring malting barley (rather than feed) this season. We have two maltsters close by and premiums are looking more appealing again.

Propino has served us very well, but is less popular in the market, so it may be replaced by Laureate.

The oats will once again be good-old reliable, farm-saved Canyon, and will go in where oilseed rape has failed. 

Our beet and potato contracts are now signed, with a few changes on recent years.

Beet seed rates will rise slightly this time, and after a few failed experiments with companions, I’m considering a flower strip through the middle of a beet field to attract aphid predators to reduce virus pressure.

At 67t/ha, this year’s crop fell 13% short of our five-year average yield, which won’t leave much of a margin, but it’s not a total disaster given the season.  

The Royal potato seed is going into blackburn crates for chitting. In a late season, this can gain us a fortnight’s maturity time come September. Yes, there is a cost to the process, but very rarely is the benefit invisible.

Never have we had a good crop planted here in March, but we have seen plenty of late-May-planted crops come out as the best performer in a season. Old fashioned it may be, but chitting, I am certain, plays a significant part in this.

As ever, it is the marginal gains that together make the difference between a good return and a marginal one.  

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