Thursday, November 15, 2018

Spring crop popularity builds amid autumn pressure

February 1, 2018 by  
Filed under Crops

More growers are moving to spring crops to avoid unwanted pressure from autumn pests and weeds. The area of spring barley in England passed 470,000ha last season – accounting for 57% of the entire barley area in 2017, according to Defra figures.

Many growers made the move to spring barley after being enticed by the prospect of a significant premium for meeting a traditional 1.85% N malting specification. But without considering the potential implications, says Paul Taylor, Agrii’s head of crop marketing.

“Growers bought in to the lure of premiums and promises that it was cheap to grow, yet a lot of spring barley grown in a blackgrass situation goes as feed – unless on a specialist high nitrogen contract. The discount for feed barley can be between £8 and £30/t,” says Mr Taylor.

Crop risk

Including spring wheat or spring barley in the rotation can help to spread the seasonal workload as well as risk. But while spring barley has been the most popular so far, this could be about to change. In fact, spring wheat can be more profitable for some growers.

“Reality is sinking in and many are beginning to question their chances of reliably achieving a 1.85% N premium specification,” says Mr Taylor. “For some the pressure at drilling is equally unrewarding.

“Spring wheats help spread the work as they can be sown earlier, often from January whereas spring barley is typically drilled from mid-March when there is plenty else going on.

“I fear some growers are swapping one monoculture for another without realising it. We need greater diversity in the rotation if we are to win the battle with blackgrass.”

Drilled in the spring rather than late winter,  spring wheat varieties Willow, Alderon and Kilburn,  are at least a match for spring barley and, depending on the season, often out do it,  says Mr Taylor. “They are strong contenders,” he adds.

It is in this position that spring wheat is being under appreciated, he believes. Nick Myers of agronomists Procam says gross margin data from ProCam’s 4Cast benchmarking service supports this assertion.

“Across the top 25% of our growers, spring wheat returns about £86/ha more than spring barley at £772/ha,” says Mr Myers. “Across all growers, spring wheat produces an average gross margin of £557/ha on average which is about £100/ha better than the average spring barley gross margin.”

Finally, seed availability is an issue that is under often appreciated by growers, says Mr Taylor. “Seed has to be processed and dressed and that takes time. If growers plan ahead and order a wheat that requires no vernalisation such as true spring varieties, they can take a planned approach.”

Such a strategy enables growers to sow when there is a good weather window, rather than make spot decisions and have to take what is available, which may not be the best genetics for the situation, he adds.

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