Spring barley – right start

5 January 2001

Spring barley – right start

Spring barley is likely to be

sown on an increased area

this spring. Andrew Swallow

asked Wilts farm manager

Chris Redfearn how he

tackles managing the crop

SEED-BED condition rather than calendar date is the secret to sowing top spring barley crops, says a leading grower.

"Establishment is the key area of growing spring barley," says Velcourt farm manager Chris Redfearn. "Whether it is December or the end of March, it has to go into ideal conditions."

This year he plans to drill 260ha (640 acres) of the crop across two of the four farms he manages from Fonthill Bishop west of Salisbury. With yields reaching 7.5-8t/ha (3-3.2t/acre) of a malting quality grain gross margins from spring barley beat second wheat on the calcareous soils.

"It also shifts some of our workload into the spring and the demand for working capital is much less and later. For a second wheat youre looking at £250-£280/ha to grow the crop compared with about £175/ha with spring barley."

As few passes as possible are used to produce a seed-bed that will give good seed to soil contact, he says. "The last thing spring barley needs is lots of wheelings and compaction."

Ploughing followed by spring tines and air drill have been the norm in the past, but this year about two-thirds of the crop will be sown following a min-till approach, possibly more if it stays wet late into the spring.

"We have already disced and pressed some of the land, and may use tines and a press on what is left. It will be sprayed off, and then we will drill into that."

Seed rates are calculated according to thousand grain weight, and adjusted to varietal tillering ability (see panel) and seedbed condition. Drilling date has little influence on the seed rate, he maintains.

"We are aiming for 800 ears/sq m from 325-350 plants, so we will probably be using 375-420 seeds/sq m, with the higher rates on our more exposed, stonier fields."

Nitrogen is tuned to the field and farm, with reference soil cores taken to test the reservoir of nitrogen. Timing of applications is adjusted to drilling date.

"Later-sown crops need an increasing proportion of nitrogen in the seed-bed or very early post-emergence as the crop will go through its growth stages faster. The main thing is that once the plant starts to grow you do not starve it," he says.

This spring Mr Redfearn expects to use 140-150kg/ha (112-120 units/acre) on the all Optic crop, up from about 120kg/ha (96 units/acre) two years ago. Early March drilled crops will receive 50% of the total nitrogen in the seed-bed, with the balance at the 2-3 leaf stage.

Monitoring for micronutrients is also important, especially manganese which is required for cell growth, he says. Crops on puffy, high pH or high organic matter soils are often deficient and tissue tests are taken to confirm expected deficiencies before visible symptoms develop.

"If you see a deficiency it is a bit late really. The cost of a tissue test is small beer compared with the payback; yield responses can be up to 0.5t/ha"

A close watch is kept on crops for disease, especially rhynchosporium, and fungicides applied at the first sign of infection.

"Rhyncho is our big disease in the south west. None of the varieties are very strong against it and the wetter climate favours it."

Disease before GS30 is eradicated so the plant is clean as it goes into its rapid growth stage. A second fungicide is timed to pick up protection as the first dose runs out, with product choice geared to disease pressure and the need to protect awns and flagleaf. Systemic activity is important if before awn emergence.

But while responses to fungicides can be substantial, Mr Redfearn stresses that seed-bed condition and drilling rates remain the key to a top crop. "If the crop has not been established correctly then no amount of chemicals will get you out of a pickle."


&#8226 Soil state key, not calendar.

&#8226 Minimise cultivation passes.

&#8226 Adjust seed rate by TGW, tillering ability, and seed-bed.

Varietal tillering

Variety Tillering Seed rate

Optic Med-high 375

Tavern Medium 375-400

Chariot Med-low 400-425

Prisma Low 425-450

Decanter Med-high 375

Chalice Medium 375

Source: New Farm Crops, suggested English seed rates. Add 10-15% for Scotland.

Patience pays when it comes to sowing spring barley. Soil conditions, not calendar date, is the key," says Velcourt farm manager Chris Redfearn (inset).


&#8226 Soil state key, not calendar.

&#8226 Minimise cultivation passes.

&#8226 Adjust seed rate by TGW, tillering ability, and seed-bed.

Varietal tillering

See more