16 February 2001


More barley will be drilled

this spring than for many

years. But growers should

not assume that experience

gained with the winter crop

can be used to produce a

successful spring crop.

Edward Long reports

SPRING barley is a different crop with different input requirements to winter barley, says Ron Gabain, who grows both winter and spring crops on the 1416ha (3500 acres) Stetchworth Estate Farms near Newmarket.

"It is cheaper to grow than winter barley, so although yields are lower the gross margin is comparable at about £575/ha. Our 160 or so hectares of spring barley is drilled in the spring, not late autumn or early winter, and needs the right inputs if it is to give a high yield of malting grain for the export market."

Both winter and spring barley are traditional crops on the 60% of the estate farms that has a light-medium loam over chalk soil. The rest is chalky boulder clay, so is mainly cropped with wheat.

The rotation on the lighter land is dominated by sugar beet. That is followed by winter or spring wheat, then spring barley before winter barley completes the four-year cycle.

"Our main spring barley variety is Optic. Last year Alexis partnered it, but was out-yielded by 0.5t/ha, so this year we are assessing Cellar on a small acreage. We have a spring barley yield target of 6.25t/ha, or 2.5t/acre sold, against a winter crop target of 7.5t/ha, or 3t/acre." Winter varieties this year are Pearl and some Leonie to try.

Wheat is slotted into the rotation after beet to exploit and mop up surplus nitrogen and achieve the best possible gross margin ahead of the spring barley.

The biggest difference between the agronomic needs of spring and winter barley is the approach to weed control. Meadow-grass is a major concern in the winter crop, requiring low rates of IPU/pendimethalin. But the biggest worry in spring barley is the usual range of broad-leaved weeds. For them a cheap-and-cheerful contact-acting mixture comprising low rates of Ally, CMPP and/or MCPA is used.

"Although cheap, costing about £12/ha, it is essential to do a good job. And we retain the flexibility to go up a gear and spend a little more on more sophisticated herbicides if the season is wet, because we cannot risk a lot of green growth coming up through the more open spring crop."

Nitrogen policy

The other big difference between crops is the nitrogen fertiliser policy. If grain is to meet the narrow 1.5-1.7N requirement of a buy-back contract great care must be taken to ensure sufficient is applied from the bag for optimum yield but not so much that grain N levels are increased beyond the specified range.

The actual amount applied to Stetchworth spring barley is determined after soil mineral testing in early spring.

"We have done this for the past 13 years and sample at depths of 0-30cm and 30-60cm as well as testing winter barley plants. I tend to do the sampling myself, and rely on ADAS to recommend rates to use, which are usually between 70 and 120kg/ha.

"Although no one can second-guess what the weather will be later in the season, the system is the best method we have of assessing actual N available and gives us confidence that we are doing everything possible to ensure the crop has what it needs to do well."

A different approach to disease control is also needed. The main threat is not the net blotch that can wreck the potential of winter barley, but mildew, and in a wet season rhynchosporium.

To cut costs when disease pressures are low Mr Gabain uses old chemistry, such as chlorothalonil to protect against Rhynchosporium or a morpholine for mildew, which he finds does an adequate job.

"It is vital to know the disease susceptibilities of the variety used and match the fungicide programme to the perceived threat. Rhynchosporium can cause yield losses of at least 1t/ha, so in a high disease pressure season money must be invested in newer and more powerful fungicides. We find Unix with Amistar or Twist is very effective."

Mildew can be troublesome in the open crop and must be controlled. The secret is to go in early with a low dose of morpholine or quinoxyfen (Fortress) before there is any sign of the fungus, says Mr Gabain.

An appropriate fungicide seed-dressing provides a clean start to the season. The biggest threats are leaf stripe and loose smut so seed should be tested.

Drilling should be into a good seed-bed. Mr Gabain says seed-bed management could be critical for new spring barley growers. To minimise compaction and moisture loss he uses a Vaderstadt drill, aiming to establish a minimum of 300 plants/sq m.

Evenly spaced

Drilling must be accurate so plants are evenly spaced. If bunched a mass of secondary tillers could develop and thin grain wreck the malting sample.

"Last year variable costs for our spring barley totalled £175/ha or £12 less than the winter crop. But it was a high disease pressure season and a lot of fungicide was needed. In a season with less disease input costs could be reduced to below £150/ha," Mr Gabain says. &#42


&#8226 Spring and winter barley gross margins comparable at about £575/ha.

&#8226 Big differences in agronomy requirements.

&#8226 Spring barley eases autumn workload pressures, and allows stubbles to be left to provide over-winter food and refuge for wildlife.

&#8226 Weed control cheaper than in winter barley as grass weeds less threatening.

&#8226 Careful assessment of N-rate needs vital to hit grain N targets.

&#8226 Accurate matching of fungicide inputs to risk can lead to input cost savings.

&#8226 Fungicide treated seed gets crop off to a clean start.

&#8226 Drill into a good seed-bed.


&#8226 160ha sugar beet.

&#8226 150ha winter wheat.

&#8226 180ha spring wheat.

&#8226 232ha winter barley.

&#8226 162ha spring barley.

&#8226 60ha triticale.

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