Farm Ireland

Wednesday 24 January 2018

Experience counts when selecting spring barley

Pat Minnock

Pat Minnock

A deterioration in weather and field conditions over the past week has limited the amount of field work going on and has impacted on the appearance of winter crops.

And while ploughing is in full swing, it should be avoided in poor conditions as this will impact on crop performance. If conditions pick up again, planting of wheat should commence, but be careful if planting winter varieties of wheat.

Generally, it is not a problem planting winter varieties in February if it is cold enough for vernalisation. However, once temperatures improve you should switch to spring varieties. Over the years, in the south and east, I have seen winter wheat crops planted in the middle of February failing to get past the vegetative growth stage with no consequent ear development and no grain harvest.

Sowing rates for wheat should be up to 170kg/ha (11 stone/ac) and while it is still a little early to sow spring barley, the rates for this should be at least 155kg/ha (10 stone/ac). You can continue to sow beans for the month of February at 185-215kg/ha (12-14 stone/ac). These should be planted deep to reduce the risk of bird damage.

It is generally accepted that fertility levels have started to drop in tillage areas. This is particularly so with the loss of the beet crop and this may be one of the reasons why proteins in malting barley have been so low for the last few seasons. When your soil phosphorus (P) index is 1 or 2, it is preferable to apply the P with the seed. Combine drills, while no longer popular, are ideal in situations where P indexes are particularly low.

The Department of Agriculture spring barley Recommended List for 2012 advocates four varieties (Cropton, Frontier, Quench and Snakebite) and two with provisional recommendations (Propino and SY Taberna). In actual yield terms, there is little to choose between the six varieties.

I would give preference to the variety that you have experience with and has given you good results in the past. The two provisionally recommended varieties, Propino and SY Taberna, have good resistance to rhynchosporium and net blotch.

With the increase in acreage of winter cereals and oil-seed rape there will be a lower demand for spring barley this season and I understand that there will be a plentiful seed supply.

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Therefore, despite higher grain prices last harvest, the barley seed market should be relatively competitive this spring.

Over the past two weeks, winter barley has continued to turn yellow and the temptation is to apply early nitrogen. My experience has taught me not to worry unduly about winter barley turning yellow. Advanced barley crops are 2-3 weeks ahead of normal. The crop is continuing to lay down grain sites, which will add to yield. The application of early nitrogen will encourage the plant to switch from the reproductive to the vegetative growth stage. Unless winter barley crops are very backward, I would delay any application of early nitrogen for another couple of weeks.

Disease levels, particularly of rhynchosporium and net blotch, are evident in advanced crops of winter barley. However, I would take no action at the moment.

Early crops of winter wheat are also very advanced and there is evidence of septoria present. This may create a significant headache later in the season, particularly when it comes to managing against septoria resistance. The expert advice is not to go with an early application of any triazole fungicide as this will tend to encourage the triazole-insensitive septoria population and possibly lead to resistance and poorer septoria control later in the season.

It is good to note that for the first year in three, I have no crop of winter oats that will have to be ploughed up due to frost damage. Winter herbicides can still be applied to wheat, barley and oats for another couple of weeks.

Most winter oilseed rape crops are very advanced. Early nitrogen should be avoided where crops have a large canopy.

Grain prices have generally improved by €30-35/t since they were first discussed last October. Weather in South America and Europe and current talk of frost kill is helping to maintain high prices. This could change without much reason. Spot prices of up to €215 were available last week and indications for next harvest are for €190/t for dried wheat and €185 for barley.

This puts a floor on some of your grain prices for the season and allows you to plan forward. I believe 20-30pc of your grain should be forward sold at this price or better if it can be obtained.

Pat Minnock is the Carlow-based president of the ACA and a member of the ITCA.

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