North: Barley margins slim despite record yields

 

We have had the warmest start to October in ages. The good weather provided an opportunity to combine some of the later crops, which have taken their time to ripen, at semi-decent moisture contents.

Skinning has been a real issue here and many malting barley crops have failed to meet spec. The feed market is awash and despite record yields, the barley margins are very slim – repeating the story for all combinable crops this season. The challenge for the season ahead will be to reduce the cost of production without compromising yield.

Autumn-sown crops are looking well. Some oilseed rape crops were a bit slow coming through in dry conditions, but now most have got really good ground cover. There was evidence of flea beetle damage earlier, with a small amount of target spotting at cotyledon stage, but insufficient to merit spraying. Last year we did not particularly feel the loss of neonicotinoids [in Scotland] and it will be interesting to see how things develop this time. Pesticide resistance is a significant threat and we all have to maintain a responsible approach to insecticide use.

Winter cereals are going into good seed-beds and the weather is allowing autumn herbicides to be applied promptly. Brome is an increasing headache that has to be tackled. A robust residual herbicide mix is enough for most cases, with follow-up treatments planned for particularly bad fields. Ploughing is the best deterrent for barren brome, but it tends to proliferate in the unploughed hedge-backs.

Growers are still getting to grips with the Scottish Government’s GAEC regulations, which can also provide some of the necessary Environmental Focus Area (EFA) needed for “Greening”. The requirement for a 2m buffer zone at a water margin is reasonably straightforward and clear to define, but hedges are another matter, and the question  “when is a hedge not a hedge?” is taxing a few brains just now, and proving a more complex question than might be expected. My advice has to be – if in doubt play safe, and avoid a penalty. At least this year’s autumn sowing can incorporate a degree of planning for Greening – this time last year most of it was unknown.

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