While it is difficult to predict how the 2018 feed barley crop will fare in the market and influence variety decisions for the following year, tight wheat supplies and reduced barley plantings could lead to prices remaining firm.
While wheat is still by far the most dominant cereal used in GB animal feed, with 3,651,800 tonnes used from July 2017 to the end of March 2018, barley has seen a particular boost in demand this selling season, rising by 23% to 934,800t (Jul-Mar) on the same period last year.
Demand for feed barley has shown a steady increase over the last three years, partly attributable to an increase in production of GB animal feed (see Table 1 and Table 2). Some of the largest increases in demand for feed barley came in the three months or so after harvest 2017.
In July 2017, the discount of ex-farm UK feed barley to wheat reached £30/t, the highest in three years, according to AHDB, which made feed barley attractive to buyers. In February, wheat and barley were around parity and figures show that although usage was up when comparing particular months with the same month the previous year, the percentage was less. For example, in February it was up 11% on the previous year whereas in August it had been up 51%.
The late spring and limited forage and straw availability led to greater reliance on compound feed, boosting demand and with it, use of grain, including barley, in the 2017/18 season, says AHDB analyst Helen Plant. “These factors were specific to this season, but if we see wheat supplies remaining tight compared to barley availability and a wide discount, we could see a relatively large amount of barley used; but people maybe have not planted everything they intended.” (See panel).
AHDB Cereals and Oilseeds board member Tony Bell says the reason barley use continued at high levels through the 2017/18 selling season despite the discount of barley to wheat narrowing is that some animal feed companies like to have a reasonably fixed formulation. “When it starts off cheap they will continue to use it even though it is not warranted because they don’t want to change the formulation.”
The price of other raw materials for compound feed can also influence barley usage and it has also been good value for feeding directly on farm during 2017/18, he adds.
As for the 2018/19 season, if barley starts off relatively cheap, a similar usage pattern could occur, suggests Mr Bell.
The AHDB Early Bird Survey (EBS) of GB planting intentions for the 2018 harvest, published in January, predicted winter barley at 382,000ha, 10% down on the Defra June survey of 423,000ha for harvest 2017.
The EBS data for the 2018 harvest is broken down by region for the first time and there are notable falls in winter barley area in the East region (-13%) and North West and Merseyside regions (-19%), with substantial swings to oilseed rape in the East region and spring barley in the North West and Merseyside regions.
Results from the Scottish 2017 Agricultural Survey showed a decrease in winter barley plantings for harvest 2018 of 10,200ha (20%) to 41,600ha. The figure is 20% lower than the ten-year average of 51,800ha and the lowest since the 1970s, according to the Scottish Government.
Winter plantings in Scotland look to have been significantly affected by rainfall in the country during planting, according to AHDB. Data from the Met Office highlights that rainfall in Scotland in the period September to November, at 474mm, was the highest since 2011.
KWS barley breeder, David Harrap says the number one priority with feed barley breeding remains treated yield, followed by grain quality comprising of specific weight, TGW and screenings.
He says minor traits such as high lysine tend not to see enough demand to warrant breeders’ attention. “Naked barley, for example, died a death as the market was not big enough. Farmers want the best yield for the lowest outlay, grain quality, plant growth that will react to the season, stem stiffness and disease resistance.”
Following the neonicotinoid ban, which will mean seed treatments containing these insecticides can no longer be used to protect against aphids potentially carrying BYDV, breeding resistance to the disease will increase in importance over the next few years, says Mr Harrap.
To address concerns farmers may have about BYDV in the short term, he says KWS plans to make 6-row feed barley Amistar, which offers tolerance to the disease, available for drilling this autumn. It is listed in the European Common Catalogue. “It could be useful for people in areas with problems – coastal areas and mild areas. We hope to sell some this autumn. It will not be a big variety but it’s nice to be able to offer something to those worried about BYDV.”
KWS’s biggest seller this coming autumn will be the 2-row feed variety, KWS Orwell, predicts Mr Harrap. “It has a very stiff straw, is a very high yielding variety and there is not a lot wrong with it; you do have to control mildew. It is a step up from Glacier, Tower and Cassia.”
Looking ahead, the company is also working on hybrid varieties but these are at least a couple of years away.
Specific weights in some hybrid barley varieties are now on a par with 2-row varieties, and the former offer a yield advantage of 5-6%, according to Syngenta seeds and seed care manager Mark Bullen. “Hybrids bring both – especially new varieties such as Libra.”
He says that the area occupied by hybrid barley varieties has doubled in the last five years and accounts for 110,000ha of winter feed barley sown for the 2018 harvest. The total winter feed barley area is 380,000ha, he adds. “Going forward we will see an increase in hybrids but probably a slightly less fast increase.”
Uptake is particularly good in the East, where hybrid barleys offer early entry for oilseed rape and consequent yield advantage for the latter crop and their vigorous early growth helps smother black-grass, says Mr Bullen.
Joe Stanley farms 303ha near Loughborough in Leicestershire including 222ha of arable and 81ha of grazing for an English Longhorn beef suckler herd. Cropping includes winter wheat, winter barley and HEAR oilseed rape, with spring crops occasionally grown.
Until this year, Mr Stanley has grown winter malting barley, most recently Venture, but issues with the supply chain, including rejected loads, some of which were subsequently accepted, and ‘the rather average’ premiums on offer mean he has opted for feed barley instead.
“Our ground is quite poor – Grade 3 so we never hit milling spec but the poorer ground quite suited malting barley and we were good at hitting low N; we never pushed our barley as it was very important to hit N content. Yields were never stellar – they averaged 7t/ha.
“Switching to feed barley we just need another 1t/ha to be in the same position [income wise] and will be rid of all the problems with the supply chain.”
He has selected KWS Cassia. “If you look at the Recommended List, it has by far the best specific weight and lowest screenings. It has a big, bold grain and for a mixed farm, good tall straw but low lodging. Although Cassia is the lowest yielding of the 2-row varieties in the RL I’d rather have a crop still standing in the field, not losing 5% on the floor because it has lodged.”
He adds that he likes to have the option to home save seed, which rules out hybrids and also has some concerns about their specific weights.
The feed barley crop has received an extra 50kg/ha N than a malting crop would have and a robust PGR programme.
Mr Stanley has sold some of the barley as he needs to move some at harvest for storage reasons and some will be sold on the spot market.
Looking ahead, he is waiting to see how Cassia performs at harvest before deciding what he will drill this autumn, variety wise. “If we end up with not much of an increase in yield on malting and regardless of managing risk if we end up with less in our pocket, we may go back into malting and look at that again.
“If the specific weight is as it should be and there is an increase in yield over malting, I imagine we’ll stick with it. I’m not a big fan of chasing top yield. With wheat, we grow Revelation and Siskin and are looking at good disease resistance to reduce fungicide use.”