Saturday, March 23, 2019

Challenging season highlights need for good barley establishment

March 5, 2019 by  
Filed under Crops

Growers establishing spring barley this season are urged to recall last year’s challenging spring – and the need to drill into good seedbeds.

Despite a topsy-turvy 2018, good yields were recorded where windows of opportunity in early March and April allowed growers to drill into seedbeds with plenty of moisture, says Ron Granger, arable  technical manager at Limagrain UK.

But where these opportunities weren’t taken, rapidly drying seedbeds towards the end of the drilling window in April saw crops establish poorly and suffer as a consequence, particularly on heavier soils.

Drilling in late February or early March can boost yield potential, so growers should aim to drill earlier if the season allows. And sowing should not be delayed unnecessarily if both weather and soil conditions allow for rapid emergence and unchecked plant growth.

“If growers are pushed later, like we saw in 2018, it’s vital to wait for the right seedbed conditions to allow good crop establishment,” explains Mr Granger. “The last thing you want is for a crop to start growing, run out of moisture and grind to a halt.”

Seed rates

In addition to getting drilling date spot on, seed rates were also important for optimising yield in 2018, particularly as many crops were not established well into April.

Mr Granger says flexibility is key when calculating spring barley seed rates. Limagrain trials have shown a good starting point for most varieties is 350 seeds/m2 when sown into optimum conditions in mid-March.

This should be adjusted down if drilling earlier and in very good conditions. Conversely, growers need to push up seed rates when drilling after the end of March, as varieties have less time to tiller and reach the optimum final ear count of 775 ears/m2.

Ear numbers

“Some of the very late-drilled crops in 2018 were in the ground for less than four months and seed rates of 550 seeds/m2 were not uncommon. This was the only way a good final ear number and optimum yield could be achieved in many cases.”

Choosing a more vigorous tillering variety will help, as it will give some reassurance that the optimum tiller count will be reached, says Mr Granger.

LG Diablo and LG Tomahawk – new spring barley additions last season, sitting at the top of the AHDB Recommended List – are higher tillering and have performed very well in 2018, despite tough conditions.

“Varieties that produce higher tiller counts also show benefits in high stress situations, as they will be able to compensate where plant numbers are low,” adds Mr Granger.

Tiller survival

Another aspect of spring barley agronomy impacted by lack of moisture is nutrition, with drying soils hindering nitrogen uptake and tiller survival in later-drilled spring barley crops.

Mr Granger advocates a split dose approach and Limagrain trials, run in conjunction with Scottish Agronomy, have shown a yield benefit from applying 150kg/ha of total nitrogen, with 120kg/ha in the seedbed – standard practice – and an additional 30kg/ha nitrogen at tillering.

But greater flexibility might be needed in exceptional conditions, such as last spring, when insufficient moisture limited plants’ ability to uptake nutrients from the soil.

“Too many growers apply all the crop’s nitrogen requirement in one dose and hope for the best – that’s a bad idea, particularly when it’s dry.

“Be aware of the moisture status in the soil and ensure that the plants will be able to use the nitrogen straight away or you risk wasting nitrogen and losing tillers.”

Mr Granger emphasises that nutrition is not all about nitrogen, with adequate available phosphate in the soil imperative for crop growth and maintaining shoot numbers.

Micronutrients also play an important role in establishment, rooting and maintaining tillers, so consider using a nutritional seed treatment, plus foliar manganese and phosphite applications early in the crop’s development, he adds.

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