Feed barley better bet than second wheat

Lower inputs, impressive yields and attractive financial returns mean winter barley could be a more attractive option than a second wheat crop this autumn.

Trials comparing the crops side-by-side in a second cereal position show barley can yield an extra 2.5t/ha than a top second wheat variety, says ADAS plant pathologist Jonathan Blake.

In the joint KWS and ADAS trial at ADAS Rosemaund in Herefordshire, winter barley achieved average yields of 10t/ha, which was significantly higher that the 8t/ha average achieved by the wheat plots.

With barley at about £160/t and wheat at £170/t, that equates to a gross margin bonus of about £350/ha for barley.

Reliable second wheat varieties Cordiale, Duxford, Grafton and Sterling were trialled alongside two-row feed barley varieties Cassia and Saffron.

Latitude (silthiofam) seed dressings were used on all four wheat varieties to eliminate take-all from the equation as well as two of the barley plots to see if it had any impact on yield, says Dr Blake. “We got a big response from using Latitude on the barley plots, which we wouldn’t normally expect.”

Duxford was the highest yielding wheat trialled, achieving 8.37t/ha with Cordiale at the bottom of the group on 7.75t/ha. Cassia achieved the highest average yield of 10.46t/ha and the greatest gross margin at £1,109/ha (see table).

Barley yields have also been impressive in trials in the east of the country, says John Miles, UK product development manager for KWS. “Cassia achieved just over 10t/ha in trials in Cambridgeshire while Duxford returned 8.5t/ha.”

But as well as the yield bonus, winter barley has significantly lower input costs, he notes. “Wheat fungicide costs are about £102/ha in a four-spray programme and barley is about £60/ha when we use a T1 and a T2.”

It also adds a different crop into the rotation and provides an early entry into oilseed rape, he says.

But the key driver behind choosing a winter barley crop over a second wheat crop is the price differential between the two, he admits. “If the gap is too big then it probably isn’t worth putting in a winter barley instead of a second wheat.”

To maximise barley yields in the second cereal position, growers should be sowing in September rather than October at relatively high seed-rates, says Dr Blake. “You need a minimum population of 200 plants/sq m. You should expect about 60% establishment, so aim for a seed-rate of 300-400 seeds/sq m.”

Nitrogen should also be applied early to retain as many tillers as possible and maximise green leaf area, he adds.

Bob Simons, an agronomy consultant for KWS, says the first nitrogen split should be applied sometime from late February to early March. “You want to be putting 40-50kg/ha on at the first split.”

Growers should also be aware that blackgrass can be a problem when winter barley is grown on heavier ground, he says. “You can’t use Atlantis (iodosulfuron + mesosulfuron) in winter barley, so this means it will be less attractive in some areas. But as Atlantis is becoming less effective and reliance on residuals has increased this has become less of a concern.”

Winter barley also has better natural competition against grass weeds as it covers the ground faster than wheat, he notes.

Mr Simons concludes that winter barley is a viable alternative to a second wheat crop. “It looks attractive at the moment, but as new varieties come through, the argument should become stronger and stronger.”

Higher-yielding barley

KWS has two new high-yielding two-row barley varieties in National List 2, which offer a significant yield increase over Cassia, says Mr Miles. Saffron-retriever cross B99 and Cassia-retriever cross B100 offer a 5% yield bonus over Cassia, he notes. “We don’t have that much yield bonus coming through in winter wheat.”

Barley variety

Yield (t/ha)

Gross margin (£/ha)

Cassia w Latitude



Cassia w/o Latitude



Cassia average



Saffron w Latitude



Saffron w/o Latitude



Saffron average



Barley average



Wheat Variety

Yield (t/ha)

Gross margin (£/ha)













Wheat average



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