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Consider markets and plan agronomy when making spring barley variety choices


With a race to get seed for spring cropping options, supplies of pulses and spring wheats are limited and for many the alternative is to grow spring barley.

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Alan Hendry, of Daltons Seeds, says: “To some degree geographical location will dictate which market you grow for, for those in southern counties export is a key driver, for those in the north it is distilling, however for those in the eastern counties there is an option to fulfil either market.


“Each of these markets demands very different requirements and it important these are fully understood when making variety choices. If growing a crop for the brewing or distilling market, it makes sense to choose a variety with some flexibility in marketing and for this the dual purpose non-GN varieties– those which supply both the brewing and distilling markets are the way forward.”


Bob King, of Crisp Malting, also believes dual-purpose varieties are the way forward. “Dual-purpose varieties are the obvious way forward for supplying both the brewing and the distilling markets, it is not feasible from a stock handling situation to have multiple varieties where some only meet brewing and others only meet distilling requirements.


“Concerto has been the benchmark variety which has been able to offer this, and more recently Odyssey. We are now looking forward to varieties that can still do this, but offer advantages over those of Concerto and Odyssey.”


However, these dual-purpose varieties need to suit both the brewing and distilling sectors, and that is a challenge Mr King adds. “It would not be good enough to compromise on either the brewing or distilling characteristics; these both need to be fulfilled by the variety, as well as offering a good agronomy package.”


Varieties suitable for malt distilling should be below 1.65% nitrogen, and non-GN, says Mike Dagg, of Simpsons Malt. “Nitrogen levels from 1.7-1.85 will meet brewing requirements – it is always better if a premium can be obtained over that of the feed price so it is worth considering what you are growing for.”


MSP Agriculture’s head of seed grain Paul Huntley adds there is enough quality seed available for the key varieties such as Concerto and Odyssey. Growers need to take advantage of this and make the right choices, taking into account what market they are growing for and how the variety fits agronomically on-farm.


He says: “Feedback from the brewers on the 2014 harvest has been extremely positive, samples have been good quality and growers have also benefitted, as yields were high.”


Concerto and Odyssey are the only dual-purpose, non-GN varieties to hold full approval for both brewing and malt distilling.



Treated yield mean


SP weight (Kg/hl)Height (cm)



MildewYellow rustBrown rustRhyncho
Concerto 97 68.8 78 2 9 7 6 4
Odyssey 102 68.2 75 2 9 7 4 6
Deveron 105 67.9 70 2 (9) (4) 5 5
Sienna 104 70.9 78 2 (9) (6) 5 6
Octavia 104 66.7 73 1 (9) (7) 5 7
Olympus 105 67.0 74 2 (9) (7) 7 6


Growing the crop

Once clear on target markets, it is important to be aware of key establishment principles. Getting the establishment right is fundamental to a successful spring crop, says Dick Neale of Hutchinsons.


“Critical for a successful barley crop is a fine seedbed that allows the crop to get away and put down a good root system. With spring barley increasingly being grown on heavier soils to tackle black-grass, minimal soil movement in the spring is vital to maintain tilth and avoid moisture loss.


Soil conditions will help dictate drilling date, and it is better to hold back and be patient if conditions are not right – spring crops never recover well from early checks  in growth says


Mr Neale says: “Soil temperatures should be at about 8degC and rising, it is better to wait and drill from mid-March than go early into a cold seedbed.   


“Drilling early does not mean more yield, and slow crop growth also increases grass-weed pressure thereby undermining any weed control benefits from a spring crop.


“Seed rates must be considered carefully; they need to be high enough to get the optimum yields –a crop going into good conditions can expect to yield 7.5-8t/ha. Soil conditions ultimately dictate seed rate but work with 350-400 seeds/sq.m – at this level the crop can compete against black-grass and defend against slug damage – aiming for a plant population of 300-350. Also take into consideration

that newer varieties tiller more than the older varieties.”


Pushing the crop is key adds Mr Neale. “Spring crops race through the growth stages once they get going, so planning inputs is important and do not assume a product has approval for use in a spring crop just because it has for a winter crop.”


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