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Plant breeder KWS is to launch its first ever hybrid barley into the UK market later this year – with a strong pipeline of... KWS prepares to launch its first hybrid barley in UK

Plant breeder KWS is to launch its first ever hybrid barley into the UK market later this year – with a strong pipeline of varieties behind it.

The company said the move underlined its commitment to the sector in the coming years. Although a newcomer to hybridisation in barley, KWS has years of experience of hybrids across sugar beet, maize, rye and oilseed rape.

“Our history with hybrid breeding stretches back to 1960s with maize and we have been steadily and successfully adding new hybrid crops and varieties to our portfolio since then,” says KWS UK hybrid crop product manager Kate Cobbold.

Barley is one of the world’s most important cereals crops and KWS has a track record of successful varieties.

“We are the market leader in conventional barley in the UK and France, for example, and introducing hybrid barley now adds to that position by allowing us to offer another solution to offer growers.”

Customer options

But the new range of hybrid barleys being launched under #NextLevel, does not replace the company’s highly successful conventional varieties, such as the current UK market leader KWS Tardis, she emphasises.

“There is a place for both conventional and hybrid barley varieties on farm. Depending on the end market and local growing conditions, farmers now have options for finding the most appropriate barley solution and that is the benefit of the KWS position.

“At the moment, 450,000ha of winter barley is grown in the UK each year of which roughly 25% is hybrid barley so we see huge opportunities in the future with the crop bringing many benefits to growers.

“Firstly, there is the potential for higher and more stable yields. Farmers are increasingly under pressure in terms of increasing  production costs and volatile grain markets and a good way to mitigate against these pressures is to have varieties that deliver high yields consistently year after year.

“Increased productivity also helps with sustainability as more efficient use of land and resources is made.”

Growers are also looking for varieties with robust disease resistances and good grain quality and hybrid varieties can excel in this area, too, she points out.

“As farmers increasingly battle with blackgrass, hybrid barley can help reduce grassweed pressures. Hybrid barley has a bigger root system than conventional barley and it gets going very early in the spring which allows it to better compete with grassweeds.

“Although this doesn’t offer complete control, it is a useful instrument within the grower’s tool box in the long-term battle with blackgrass pressures.”

Hybrid barley is also a great addition to crop rotations, usually being the first cereal to start harvest, adds Ms Cobbold.

“Thanks to its early harvest maturity, hybrid barley is an ideal crop to sow before oilseed rape, giving farmers the opportunity to drill earlier and spread the workload during a very busy time of the year.”

Exciting future

The variety Inys is the first of the new hybrid barley varieties to be launched.

“Inys seems to have a definite yield advantage over the leading hybrids currently available in the UK with good yield stability plus we’re seeing thicker plant stands and deeper rooting, which is exactly what we were hoping to see.

“There are indications that Inys also has a much more vigorous growing habit in the early stages of development with up to 40% greater ground cover being seen in some instances.

“It’s all shaping up to be a very exciting project with significant benefits for growers in the future.”

Global markets

Sandra Dunckel, KWS head of breeding barley, says the UK will be the first of the company’s global markets to introduce hybrid barley.

“Many people have put in a lot of hard work to get us to this point, with the hybrid barley breeding programme taking us all across Europe and strengthening the bonds between the different barley breeding teams within KWS stations.

“Furthermore, we have initiated ongoing trials across multiple countries with the first KWS hybrids entering official trials in autumn 2022, which represents a major, and very exciting, milestone for us.”