Price and yield boost to feed barley

Better grain prices and leaps in yield from newer varieties could boost the appeal of winter feed barley, including hybrids, in rotations this autumn, experts are suggesting.


Winter feed barley
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Six appeal: Better grain prices and high yields could boost interest in winter feed barley – including hybrids – this autumn.


Not least that could be aided by the crop’s early harvest taking the pressure off the traditional winter wheat harvest bottleneck, and providing an entry for more oilseed rape.

Masstock-Dalgety national seed business manager, Barry Barker, says feed barley prices have risen in tandem with prices for wheat.

But planting more wheat might simply compound the already pressurised wheat harvest, he says, because farms haven’t necessarily geared up, labour-wise, when taking on more land.

“While we’ve seen investment in machinery, I’m not aware that farmers have increased labour in any way,” says Mr Barker, “though I think most have more land to combine. I think farmers have said ‘okay, if I increase planting I will have to consider looking at barley again’.

“I will be very surprised if we don’t see some upturn in the barley area this autumn. The ability to get a crop off two weeks or more before wheat is a big advantage to some growers.’’

As well as easing harvest, Mr Barker says early-maturing winter barley also provides an important entry for the increasing frequency of oilseed rape in rotations – sparked by its strong grain price and biofuel interest.

Even for growers in the south, where oilseed rape can be established after winter wheat, there can still be a benefit in establishing the crop after winter barley, he says, in case wheat harvest is delayed.

“The oilseed rape rotation is getting shorter. While a few years ago it was one year in four or five, now we are starting to see people looking at one in three or one in two.

“Most farmers want to see their oilseed rape in the ground by the middle of August if possible. If you’re following wheat that can cause a problem for people in the north, or even in the south if there’s a delayed harvest.

“Barley could certainly help in being able to get the increased oilseed rape area drilled.”

“Barley could certainly help in being able to get the increased oilseed rape area drilled.”

Turning to types of barley, Mr Barker says growing dual-purpose barley, in the hope of achieving malting quality but selling as feed if not, has separated out to either specialist malting or feed growers recently, as the yield gap between dual-purpose varieties and high-output feed varieties has increased.

Six-row feed varieties, including hybrids, now hold more appeal for growers, he notes.

“With the increase in feed yields with hybrids and one or two others, if growers are not getting a malting contract or the contract they want, they are having a look to feed. Six-rows are far more accepted these days. Generally speaking their grain quality has improved.

“We’ve moved from a situation where a fair number of growers have decided they definitely didn’t want a six-row variety to many actively choosing or at least considering a six-row. As such I would expect an increase in feed barley growers again this year.”

Iain Davidson, seeds manager for ACT in Scotland, agrees the better prices make feed barley more attractive. “It’s a huge increase on the £60/t of last year,” he says.

North of the border, six rows are already widely-grown. But the introduction of the latest generation of hybrids could see their popularity rise this season – due to improved grain quality and agronomics, he predicts.

“In terms of bushel weight, the quality of Boost, in particular, and Bronx is better than the original hybrids.” says Mr Davidson.

“Boost also has the advantage of being a stronger strawed variety and along with Bronx has a good disease profile.

The hybrids in general have superior yields compared to many conventional six-row varieties. The more yield, the more income,” he adds.

Of the hybrids, Mr Davidson believes Bronx is more suited to experienced growers looking to home-feed or blend with two rows, while the higher specific weight of Boost is more suited to growers looking to sell directly off-farm.

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