Is winter barley more popular than spring-sown cousin?

Ciaran Hickey

After some time in the doldrums, winter barley is becoming a more popular crop. A large part of the reason is that dried yields are 0.56t/ac higher compared to it's spring-sown first cousin.

In addition, Teagasc tillage margins for 2012 show that the break-even yield for winter barley was 3.2t/ac compared to 2.7t/ac for spring barley.

With many winter barley crops hitting 3.6t/ac this year, they should leave a gross margin of €112/ac. Contrast this with a 2.8t/ac spring barley crop grossing €49/ac. Compared to seven or eight years ago when you put a lot more into winter barley to get the same tonnage as spring barley, the former now has the ability to outperform its spring equivalent in terms of both yield and gross margin.

Where has the extra yield come form?

The jump in output is largely down to the fact that final grain yield is a product of ears/sqm multiplied by the grains/ear by the average grain weight.


In barley the grain size has been found to be a less important factor compared to the grain number/sqm.

So the more ears/sqm with a good grains/ear counts, the higher the yield.

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We start with seed rate. The aim is to have 300 plants/sqm in the spring. Allowing for an 85pc establishment, this means that you need 350 seeds/sqm (12.5-13st/ac) to achieve 300plants/sqm.

Bear in mind that the seed rate may vary hugely this year to achieve the desired plants/sqm due to the high levels of ear diseases.

Fusarium graminearum and microdochium nivale affect seed germination. So where seed is home-saved it is important that it is tested for germination, micodochium (fusarium) seedling blight, etc to ensure it is suitable for use as seed.

This is the foundation. From here on it is about managing the 300 plants/sqm to give 1,000-1,100 ears/sqm and ultimately 18,000 grains/sqm which equates to a final yield of 9.80t/ha (3.95t/ac).


Maintaining tiller numbers in the spring is crucial. This is achieved using nitrogen earlier to stop the plant throwing off tillers due to lack of nutrients and the use of growth regulators to maintain tiller numbers. This is coupled with early-season disease control, again to protect tillers, all of which lead to a higher final grains/sqm count and ultimately a higher yield.

With winter barley we now have a better understanding of how to achieve this. In the past, there tended to be a higher emphasis on managing the crop from mid-April onwards when the flag leaf was visible. This was when the big spend on fungicides kicked off, whereas now we see that there is more return from early-season management.

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