Avoid Reflexes: How to weigh the pros and cons of growing winter barley

Ten months before the 2023 harvest, plans for next year’s crop mix are already taking shape.

Sowing is now taking place between rapeseed crops and the area appears to be at least similar to 2022. Winter wheat crops have done well for many growers, as has winter oats, so the acreage of these crops will be broadly similar as well.

However, many farmers have been disappointed with winter barley’s performance and before making a decision for next year, growers need to consider the poor yields, poor aphid control and performance of the spring crops.

Many said spring barley had outperformed winter crops at much lower cost and risk. Farmers are afraid of growing winter barley, especially given the price of fertilizers.

Our preliminary costs and yields for 2023 show that winter barley will cost 300-400€/ha more to grow than spring barley, so many will wait to see how prices develop in spring before committing to one decide sowing.

Of course, it’s rare for two years to be the same. While winter barley was the poor relative in 2022, it could be a different story in 2023.

Where the 2022 crops fared poorly, sit down and try to figure out why. Here are some factors that may have had an impact:

■ Sowing too early – some crops were sown in mid to late September; this increases disease and hospitalization pressure and makes BYDV more difficult to control.

■ Second Grain Slot – Second Wheat is almost a thing of the past given the cost of growing winter wheat, so many farms in this slot have been growing winter barley. Barley can also suffer from take-all, which can be overdone by early drilling.

■ Weeds – Grass weeds were evident in some crops, with brome and wild oats competing for light and resources.

■ P&K Holidays – With the price of fertilizer many growers are reducing the amount of phosphorus and potassium fed to their crops. Where soil indices were low or pH very high, this may have affected plant growth and development in spring.

■ Tank Mixing – The list of products that go into tank mixing seems to be growing every year. Some crops were scorched in March and April because too many chemicals were applied at once; Barley cultures do not usually recover from this.

■ Disease control – many growers went from a three spray strategy to a two spray strategy and although disease rates were generally low some plants, particularly later Ramularia, suffered.

■ Spray Timings – The switch to a two spray strategy impacted the timing of fungicide applications, with the final application being applied far too late in some cases. Recently, at a group meeting, I was asked again about the last time the awns appeared. Trials consistently show that up to 0.4 t/ha is lost if this application is delayed by two weeks or until the heads have flowered.

■ Ramularia – 2022 seemed to be a high Ramularia year and the loss of chlorothalonil was clearly felt, although folpet shows a reasonable response when mixed with an azole.

When deciding how much winter barley to grow, keep the other benefits in mind: extra straw, earlier harvest, workload distribution, plus it’s a good starter crop for winter oilseed rape, etc.

Where winter barley performed well in 2022, it was generally in good crop rotations and receiving organic fertilizers or the recommended N, P, and K levels.

Plants sown later – ie planted in October – also seemed to do better, with fewer early-stage diseases and less BYDV in them, which in turn reduced growing costs.

So weigh all the pros and cons of growing winter barley and look at the long-term averages of the harvest on the farm before making a decision.

Knee-jerk reactions and decisions based solely on what happened in the previous harvest rarely work.

Shay Phelan is a Teagasc crop and potato specialist based in Oak Park, Co. Carlow

https://www.independent.ie/business/farming/tillage/avoid-knee-jerk-reactions-how-to-weigh-up-the-pros-and-cons-of-growing-winter-barley-41968023.html Avoid Reflexes: How to weigh the pros and cons of growing winter barley

Fry Electronics Team

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