The secret to a good crop of winter barley is to “feed it like wheat” and keep it stiff by “treating it as a hybrid”, says Suffolk agronomist Tom Rouse of Farmacy.
In addition to his day job Tom oversees the agronomy on his family farm at Bradfield St Clare, south of Bury St Edmunds and with his stepfather performing all field operations there is a strong incentive to promote performance.
“Adjusted to 14% moisture content this year’s 13ha of KWS Orwell yielded 9.85t/ha which is a little below last year’s crop of KWS Glacier which yielded 10.2/ha, but the seasons were very different. This year the dry winter and early summer drought combined with some exceptionally hot days to curb performance. We could not have known how this season would play-out, so I am always wary of making decisions in hindsight,” says Tom.
His approach of investing in performance has served him well and crops typically perform well-above the average, but there are seasons when the conditions go against you and, sometimes, yields can disappoint.
“It can be tempting to be hard upon yourself when you don’t set new record yields every year, but performance is always relative and investments in crop protection rarely prove unworthwhile,” he says.
The policy of pushing crops to perform begins from the start with seed rates slightly higher than what most growers might consider necessary.
“Seed is the least expensive input so why not push seed rates a little if it leads to higher yields? At 425 seeds/square metre with an estimated 80% establishment we aim for 340 plants/sq. metre from a mid- to late-September sowing. From here we are off to a good start,” he says.
With the crop emerged it is treated much like winter wheat with an application of sewage sludge before October and fungicides, namely a mildewcide, and an insecticide applied in the autumn. Manganese and magnesium applied as a foliar spray is a routine addition to the sprayer tank through at this time.
Come the spring and its much the same with three fungicides based around Siltra Xpro (bixafen + prothioconazole) and bitter salts added with every application to support grain size. “We’ve found bitter salts support kernel size and rarely see screenings above 2% since we began using it,” says Tom. Nitrogen is straight-forward with a total of 184kg N/ha split in to three applications in addition to what is available with the sewage sludge.
While fertiliser and fungicide management are much like with wheat, the use of plant growth regulator is far closer to that associated with a crop of hybrid barley.
“Orwell is a little stiffer than some varieties but skimping on PGR is not a worthwhile saving; a laid crop is frustrating for everyone and not a good advertisement for me. The crop this year received an application of Tempo (trinexapac-ethyl) at T0 followed by a mix of Madex max (Prohexadione-calcium + trinexapac-ethyl) and chlormequat at T1,” explains Tom.
A routine application of Cerone (ethephon + 2-chloroethylphosphonic acid) or Terpal (mepiquat chloride and 2-chloroethylphosphonic acid) is applied to complete the three-split PGR programme with Bravo (chlorothalonil) for ramularia at flag leaf emergence.
“You still get plenty of straw, but PGR ensures it stays standing, that is something we can all appreciate,” he adds.