Growers urged to reconsider winter barley as second cereal

Strong wheat prices and fears over grassweed control have fuelled the growing of second wheats at the expense of winter barley in recent years.

But there are strong economic reasons to reconsider winter barley with one breeder urging growers to look again at the crop for the coming season.

Based on HGCA Recommended List (RL) data, over the past decade feed barley had yielded just 4.4% less than a second wheat, said commercial manager Julie Goult at a KWS press briefing held near Royston, Herts.

So using variable costs published by John Nix combined with DEFRA on-farm yield data, this equates to a gross margin of just £12/ha less than second wheat.

And on top of this, the extra value of barley straw over wheat adds another £30-40/ha and there are other benefits, such as an earlier entry for oilseed rape.

But as she pointed out, the HGCA RL data was for wheat and barley plots that are not grown in the same field. “So the figures are not directly comparable.”

This lack of comparable data prompted KWS and ADAS to set up the Second Cereal Project directly comparing the two crops at two sites, ADAS’ Rosemaund in Herefordshire and at KWS’ PDF East site in Hertfordshire.

Barley blueprint

  • Select the right high-yielding variety.
  • Optimum sowing date middle to end of September.
  • Target population of 300 plants/sq m.
  • Use pre- and post-emergence stacking strategy for grassweed control.
  • Disease control – programme based on good triazole proven effective in recent years. Strobilurin and SDHI offer additional yield benefits.
  • A chlormequat, triexapac-based PGR gives good base lodging control for fertile sites.
  • Consider a Terpal-type follow up in high lodging risk situations.

Both sites are on medium soil (good barley land) and had no blackgrass problems.

“Wheat varieties included those considered to be good second wheat varieties while we included the best feed barley varieties,” said product development manager John Miles.

They were Grafton, JB Diego, Duxford, KWS Santiago, KWS Sterling and Conqueror. Barleys grown included Saffron, Cassia, Glacier and Escadre.

Both sites adopted the same management programmes with 220kg/ha of nitrogen fertiliser applied to wheat and 180kg/ha to barley. “We were pushing the barley hard for yield.”

Fungicide spend was £90/ha for wheat and £60/ha for barley, reflecting the lower input requirements for barley, he said. Wheat also had a Latitude seed treatment for take-all.

“Overall, variable costs were £88/ha less for winter barley due to the combination of less fertiliser, no seed treatment and reduced fungicide need.”

Looking at the average yield across the three seasons, winter barley gave 1.5t/ha more than second wheat.

But one result highlighted the importance of drilling date on barley performance.

“We saw at least a 2t/ha advantage in five of the six data points (three years multiplied across two sites), but for ADAS Rosemaund, the trial design meant we had to compromise on drilling date with both crops drilled in October instead of the optimum September barley drilling window.

“In 2011, this limited the yield of barley, resulting in wheat having the advantage,” he said.

In terms of cash, the mean response of 1.5t/ha was worth more than £280/ha to the bottom line. Adding on the extra value of the barley straw (£34/ha) took it above £300/ha, he explained.

There are also additional benefits including an earlier entry to oilseed rape and this year is a good season to highlight how crucial sowing date is. August-drilled oilseed rape looks reasonable while September-drilled crops look poor.

“Two weeks is the difference between success and failure for oilseed rape this season.”

He highlighted recent trials by Sentry showing a 0.5t/ha difference in yield between mid-August and early September drilled crops.

Having barley in the rotation also helps to spread work with fungicide and fertiliser applications fitting between the wheat applications. “At harvest, it helps spread the workload being cut a fortnight earlier than second wheat.”

Further work is now being carried out looking at heavier land and newer varieties including RL candidates.

“We are also looking at different seed rates and growth regulators,” Mr Miles said.

David Harrap

Glacier’s success may be tip of the iceberg

Newly recommended KWS Glacier is the top yielding two-row barley on the HGCA Recommended List and could take 20% market share within the next two years.

The variety is the result of crossing already established varieties Cassia and Danish-bred, Retriever.

As KWS barley breeder David Harrap explained, Retriever is a top yielder, but there was an issue with specific weight and straw stiffness. “So we crossed it with Cassia, which has stiff straw and excellent grain quality.”

Now Glacier outyields both parents with an RL treated yield of 107%, 2% above Retriever and 3% above Cassia.

“On heavy land, it has an exceptional yield, 2% more than Volume and in the East, it is on a par with the hybrid,” said Mr Harrap.

Its specific weight is good at 69.9kg/hl and has a resistance to lodging score of 7.

He added Glacier has good resistance to the wet weather diseases with 6s for brown rust, rhynchsporium and net blotch. It is resistant to barley yellow mosaic virus.

Mr Harrap is confident that it will capture 20% of the market in the next two years and there is sufficient seed this autumn for 15% of the winter barley market.

 RL Ratings for Glacier 
UK with fungicide (8.8 t/ha)


East region with fungicide (8.7 t/ha) 109.2%
North region with fungicide (8.6t/ha) 104.9%
West region with fungicide (9.1 t/ha) [104%]
Agronomic features  
Resistance to lodging 7
Straw height (cm) 81
Disease resistance
Mildew 4.1
Yellow rust [7]
Brown rust 6
Rhynchosporium 6.4
Net blotch 6.2

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