Spring crops are an obvious option where black-grass rears its ugly head. But on heavy land it can feel like their poor financial performance offsets the value of a good spring clean. But is the compromise really as wide as some suggest?
Andrew Ward of Leadenham, Lincs is one of many farmers who is beating black-grass and getting good payback from malt and feed spring barley. Here are some of his tips for successful spring barley.
Many only cultivate when winter crops are in the ground and autumn work is up to date. We don’t, soil has a memory and if worked in poor conditions it stays that way.
We go through with our Solo before we start drilling winter oilseed rape. It means soils are worked in drier conditions and thus enter the winter better and come out of it better too. It widens our spring crop drilling window and allows us to get more than one pre-Christmas glyphosate application on if necessary.
Pick your market, and your variety, and stick to it. The mistake many make is cutting nitrogen in the hope for a malt premium only to see the crop go for feed and fail to yield to its potential. Have a clear marketing and agronomic strategy that you can keep faith with.
Spring barley is competitive with black-grass, but seed rates are important. If you go too low you will risk black-grass coming through. Aim for higher rates as the increased cost will pay off with better black-grass suppression.
Some varieties are not good standers, and feed crops require a reasonable amount of nitrogen, so a good plant growth regulator programme is essential. Once you’ve started with it, follow it through. We find the later timing very important (GS33-37) and always come in with a strong product like Terpal (mepiquat chloride).
It may have a short life and not be in the ground for long but spring barley can still succumb to a host of disease threats. Two sprays with a product like Siltra (prothioconazole + bixafen) is uncomplicated and a good insurance policy.