Monday, April 23, 2018

Spring barley return spells blackgrass decline

December 21, 2017 by  
Filed under Crops

Re-introducing spring barley back into the rotation after a 20-year absence has given a visible reduction in blackgrass levels for a Lincolnshire  farm manager.

Managing a total of 520 ha at PC Tinsley, Holbeach Hurn, South Lincolnshire, Martin Cook is no stranger to battling blackgrass with spring cropping.

With rotations of vegetables on lighter land and combinable crops on his heavier silts, spring wheat has been grown on numerous occasions over the past couple of decades.

But patchy results against the weed prompted him to give spring barley a try last season, for the first time since the mid to late 1990s.

Not only was there a visible blackgrass reduction in the spring barley itself, compared with the levels typically seen in a second winter wheat that it replaced in the rotation, but also in the oilseed rape crop that followed it. The economics of spring barley also looked good into the bargain, says Mr Cook.

“We’ve been fighting blackgrass for years,” he explains, whose combinable rotation has historically included two wheats, winter oilseed rape, two wheats and spring beans.

“We’ve grown spring wheat for a long time when land has been available in the rotation. But you need quite a high seed rate and we’ve grown it for long enough to know that you don’t get the fantastic smothering that you do with barley.”

Trying spring barley in 2017, planted at the end of March, Mr Cook selected malting varieties instead of feed types – trying just over an acre (0.5ha) of new variety Laureate sown alongside 40ha of an alternative spring barley variety targeted at brewing.

“It’s encouraging what the spring barley did to the blackgrass population,” he continues. “We saw very little in the spring barley itself, whereas in the wheat crop before it there were patches.

“We also had much less blackgrass in spring barley than we normally get in a second wheat crop. We’re seeing some blackgrass in the oilseed rape that’s followed it, but I’m pleased with the level.”

As well as helping to reduce blackgrass, Mr Cook also believes his best yield from spring barley compared favourably with what the farm normally achieves from second wheat, once blackgrass has taken yield its toll. “We should be getting 9 t/ha with second wheat, but with blackgrass it reduces that,” he adds.

By comparison, he says his highest-yielding spring barley, Laureate, yielded 8.2-8.3 t/ha, compared with 7.5-7.6 t/ha from his alternative variety on the combine yield meter. Previously, he’d calculated if spring barley delivered 7-7.5 t/ha and reduced blackgrass it would stack up.

Commenting on newcomer variety Laureate, Samantha Brooke of its breeder Syngenta says what made it a particularly timely choice for Mr Cook was that, during 2017, Laureate was promoted to full approval for both malt distilling and brewing uses on the Malting Barley Committee (MBC) approved list.

Eastern promise

“This full approval for both uses is especially useful in the eastern counties,” she says, “because malting barley from East Anglia can go into either beer-making or distilling.

“A variety suited to both uses therefore gives potential access to two different markets, depending on whether you are more likely to achieve a brewing or distilling grain nitrogen specification – thereby helping to spread risk.”

Based on his results, Martin Cook says he’ll be growing more Laureate in 2018. “We’ll be growing about 20 ha of Laureate,” he notes.

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