Hybrid barley – superior grass weed suppression as standard

Hybrid Barley

Grass weed control has been a particular headache in 2023, with dry weather compromising efficacy from residual herbicides and wet weather limiting opportunity to travel later in the season and into the spring. Coupled with the extended germination window of grass weeds, the increasing threat posed by herbicide resistance and the lack of new active ingredients, the threat of grass weeds presents complex problems for growers to manage.

This means that the enhanced crop competition from hybrid barley should be a key consideration when planning integrated management of grass weeds in winter cropping systems for next season. 

Syngenta Seeds Technical Manager, Ben Urquhart says “unfortunately there is no magic bullet when it comes to grass weed management, and successful strategies rely on taking lots of small steps which add up to a big result”  he goes on to say that “choosing hybrid barley as the most competitive option over conventional wheat and barley provides a perfect foundation for any management decisions that come afterwards”

The phenomenon of heterosis or hybrid vigour is uniquely responsible for hybrid barley varieties superior competitiveness and ability to suppress grass weeds like black-grass, ryegrass and brome. Ben says that “hybrid barley grass weed suppression is not a new phenomenon, but this season has really demonstrated the importance of making the most of competitive crops. Resistance and increasingly unpredictable weather patterns coupled with the movement towards reduced tillage means we cannot rely on herbicides to do a complete job anymore. Hybrid barley is a very sensible choice if you have grass weed pressures.”

But you don’t just have to take Ben’s word for it. Hybrid barley has been independently and scientifically proven to be better at competing with certain grass weeds than both 2 and 6-row conventional barley and far greater than wheat, with trials also demonstrating that the benefits of heterosis extend below ground as well as above.

Not only has this meant the hybrid barley crops have yielded far in excess of the conventionals in grass weed scenarios, it also has the added benefit of reduced grass weed seed return for following crops. Irrespective of herbicide resistance status, hybrid barley grass weed suppression trials have demonstrated that the remaining grass weeds in the crop produce fewer tillers, smaller heads and fewer seeds, consequently reducing the seed burden for the following crop.


On the left - black-grass head from winter wheat crop (high seed return). 

On the right - less mature black-grass head with lower seed return from competitive hybrid barley crop 





The taller hybrid barley plants with higher tiller numbers and larger flag leaves are more competitive with grass weeds for space and light. Larger root mass also means the hybrid barley plants are more competitive below ground whilst the improved rooting system also provides a larger surface area for uptake of essential nutrients and water.

Growing hybrid barley is only one element in integrated pest management when targeting grass weeds. In conjunction with grass weed control programmes, growers can effectively reduce the grass weed burden. Elevated seed rates and utilisation of early nitrogen have been shown to increase the suppression effect of hybrid barley even further.

As Ben puts it “there aren’t a lot of things on farm that we can have total control over, drill timings and applications can all be impacted by the weather, but by choosing the most competitive option - a hybrid barley variety - growers can make a big step towards dealing with grass weed pressure in 2024”.


To the left - Black-grass plant from competitive hybrid barley crop 

In the middle - More productive black-grass plant from less competitive conventional barley crop 

To the right - Black grass plant from wheat crop 







To find out more please visit our website or contact a member of the Syngenta technical team.

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