Siberia is a scorcher

6 October 2001

Siberia is a scorcher

Harvest has not been a disappointment for everyone. Peter Read reports on direct-drilled Siberia winter barley in Wiltshire

NICK TORY is a happy man. His Siberia barley produced 5t/acre (12.35t/ha) – and he has satellite mapping to prove it. "I would have been pleased with 4t/acre," says Mr Tory, who farms 648ha (1,600 acres) across three farms in Wiltshire and Dorset, in partnership with his parents, Michael and Bee Tory.

The 95ha (235-acre) Siberia crop, was Mr Torys first experience of this six-row feed barley, and was grown under the guidance of his agronomist, Stuart Martin of Crop Management Services. Why Siberia? "It is known to be a high yielding feed variety with good standing power, with the great asset of resistance to barley yellow mosaic virus. But its not perfect. Its prone to low specific weights and very susceptible to yellow rust."

So a fertiliser strategy to keep specific weights up was crucial. Nitrogen was applied in four applications, totalling 206kg/ha: in mid-March, early April, early May and mid-May. Three Amistar (azoxystrobin) fungicide applications were made bringing the total pesticide bill to £100/ha (£41/acre). Variable costs were about £210/ha (£85/acre). Pig manure was applied two years ago at 25t/ha (10t/acre).

"The high nitrogen and spray regime helped to ensure that the specific weight was between 63kg/hl – the buyers minimum – and 67kg/hl," says Mr Martin.

So what else did Mr Tory do to get this impressive yield? "The land was extremely wet. But direct-drilling enabled us to sow in fairly good time – on October 16 – at 260 seeds/sq m. It was then rolled. The land would have been impossible to plough or disc."

A winter slug problem was tackled with Draza slug pellets. The crop then had plenty of sun and rain during the growing period: "Rain is particularly important on this chalky-flint land because it is so prone to drought," says Mr Tory. He also followed the harvesting advice of Siberias UK agent, Dalgety Arable: "We fitted de-awning plates and only cut between noon and 5pm because better awn removal is achieved with a dry crop."

Mr Tory has not tried direct drilling for four years. "Previous experiences with two different drills were disappointing – a definite yield decrease compared to plough and press establishment." But this year he used an Amazon Airstar Primera 601 with a working width of 6m. "Work rate was 80 to 100 acres a day. It can perform in all conditions, and I dont know of any other drill that can do that. The wide spacing between the coulters means it is especially good with trash."

"Direct drilling comes into its own after the pea and beans break crops, when you are able to drill into a clean seedbed. It is not ideal within a cereal rotation because there is a need to chit out. So we would use min till in this situation, which also helps solve the slug problem. We plough after the pigs and set-aside, with spring cropping, and when we need to get rid of a pan." And the difference in cost? "Direct drilling is half the cost of plough and press, and min till is midway between the two. Direct drilling might not produce a cosmetically pretty crop but we have proved that it can produce the yield."

Contractors carry out all Mr Torys drilling, ploughing and spraying. There are no farm-owned tractors; they are hired in as and when they are needed. The only owned machinery is: the second-hand 7.3m (24ft) New Holland TX68 combine, the 3,000-litre ferti-spreader, grain trailers, rollers and the two JCB telehandlers. "This is our first year of using the same machinery across all three farms and of doing our own combining."

How did Mr Torys other crops perform? "Were very pleased with the winter wheat. Its averaged 4t/acre, with 90% of it going for milling. The oilseed rape yielded a disappointing 1.25 to 1.5t/acre; the 1.25t/acre was where we used a demo disc-drill and had a real slug problem. Spring barley, which was ploughed and conventionally drilled, was satisfactory at 2.25t/acre. Our seed winter beans have averaged 2.5t/acre, with a top yield of 3.0t/acre."

Inputs are bought through Crop Management Services buying group, giving "considerable savings". Mr Tory feels that a cost-saving future includes precision farming – he already fits his RDS GPS equipment to both his combine and ferti-spreader. "Precision soil sampling and fertiliser application saves £5/acre a year in fertiliser." Next year he plans to be precision spraying.

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