Spring barley: maximise your chance of achieving malting specification
Even if you’re growing spring barley out of necessity because of difficulties establishing winter crops, don’t treat it as a Cinderella crop.
If it’s in the rotation, you might as well grow it for maximum margin.
The UK produces some of the best quality malting barley in the world, and Scotland has not been able to grow enough spring malting barley to meet its strong demand for distilling recently.
Over the years, Syngenta has carried out countless trials on spring barley quality and yield.
So what are the five key things to consider?
1. Get grain nitrogen content right
Achieving the correct grain nitrogen (grain N) content is crucial for malting barley.
As a rule of thumb, domestic brewing markets want 1.6-1.75% grain N, while malt distilling requires grain N below 1.65%. But these may vary, so check your contract if you have one.
Grain N can be influenced by a number of factors – such as season, land type, drilling date and rotational position. So these must be taken into account.
With fertiliser, higher nitrogen doses and later applications will tend to increase grain N, and the optimum nitrogen dose (and timing) can vary by variety.
Adjusting fertiliser regimes according to the variety and field situation is therefore key.
Growing Laureate for brewing
Looking at the popular dual-purpose variety Laureate, as a guide when growing it for brewing, we suggest applying a split nitrogen dose before GS15. Trials over three years showed nitrogen fertiliser could be increased to 150 kg/ha to increase yield without exceeding the 1.75% grain N threshold. However, there wasn’t much point in going above 150 kg/ha, because yield didn’t get any higher.
Growing Laureate for distilling
When growing Laureate for malt distilling, less nitrogen should be applied. In this case, trials showed nitrogen fertiliser could be increased to 125 kg/ha to raise yield without exceeding the 1.65% grain N threshold, but if increasing to 150 kg/ha, then % grain N became more marginal. Timing-wise for malt distilling, we suggest either a split application or applying it all in the seedbed. If you’re used to growing a lower-yielding variety that doesn’t dilute its grain N as much, you may find you have leeway to apply a bit more nitrogen with Laureate.
2. Achieve good grain size and specific weight
Whether growing for malting or indeed feed, if you are selling spring barley grain, then producing high specific weights and low screenings is key.
As well as variety choice, disease control can have a big part to play – since maintaining green leaf area also helps to maintain the plant’s capacity for grain-filling. Therefore effective disease prevention is key.
However, there is a word of caution when applying nitrogen. Over-applying nitrogen, as well as potentially leading to grain N becoming too high, can also increase screenings.
3. Manage disease correctly
Having sufficient fertile tiller numbers to produce the optimum number of ears per square metre provides the foundation for yield in barley – so it is important to protect tillers by creating a disease-free, healthy canopy early on.
Later, it becomes important to protect grain-filling by maintaining this clean and green canopy as the season progresses.
With this in mind, it is often better to apply two fungicide sprays (or potentially three in some circumstances), even if at lower doses, to maintain green leaves all the way up the canopy, rather than trying to control disease in one ‘hit’, especially as the lower leaves in barley contribute more to yield than in wheat.
Across a range of varieties in our trial plots (unreplicated) in Hampshire last season, treating with fungicide not only boosted yield and reduced grain N, it also increased specific weight and reduced screenings.
As well as the usual diseases of Rhynchosporium, net blotch and mildew, brown rust has been prevalent in barley over recent seasons, and growers will need to be especially vigilant against Ramularia with the loss of chlorothalonil this year.
Elatus Era for spring barley
The SDHI-based fungicide Elatus Era is a very good fit in barley. As well as being fully approved for use in malting barley and providing activity against key diseases of net blotch and Rhynchosporium, it gives exceptional brown rust control. It also delivers a robust dose of SDHI for the money and contains the azole fungicide prothioconazole, which is well-recognised in barley.
Trials with Elatus Era used once in a two-spray fungicide programme have shown excellent responses in spring barley.
From an ease-of-use perspective, it can also be used in both barley and wheat.
Chlorothalonil can only be used up until 20 May 2020, which will almost certainly be before the usual spring barley T2 timing.
In anticipation of the loss of chlorothalonil, we have evaluated the alternative multi-site fungicide, folpet. Trial plots in spring barley showed that adding folpet to Elatus Era at T2 gave a positive yield response in a Ramularia situation.
Example fungicide programmes in spring barley
High risk Ramularia
SDHI/Triazole + multi-site*
Elatus Era + multi-site*
Elatus Era + multi-site*
* Multisite = CTL or Folpet
Because spring barley grows quickly, it is important to monitor crops regularly to be timely with fungicide sprays. As in other cereals, disease prevention is better than cure.
4. Manage lodging and brackling
With many modern varieties having high yield potential, straw strength can come under pressure – either from lodging or from brackling higher up the plant, which can lead to loss of ears.
A plant growth regulator programme can help against both problems, and Syngenta trials have shown that height reduction plays a major part in reducing spring barley lodging risk.
However, it is important not to ‘over-regulate’ spring barley, especially in drought conditions. PGRs are therefore best applied at lower doses in a ‘split programme’, rather than in a single, large dose.
Usefully, the SDHI-based fungicide Elatus Era, applied at a later timing, has also been seen to reduce brackling in trials.
5. Manage harvest and storage
Correct harvesting and storage techniques are vital for maintaining spring barley quality.
- Harvest on time
Leaving crops too late can result in pre-germination or even heads being shed. Some varieties may be ready for harvesting while ears remain upright, so checks crops carefully, rather than simply relying on visible ‘ear angle’. If you are growing a mixture of feed barley and malting barley, consider prioritising harvest of malting crops
- Use correct combine set-up
Check combine set-up and consider adjusting to avoid grain damage. Split or skinning grains can cause real headaches for end users (including variable rates of water uptake during malting leading to uneven rates of malting), which in turn can lead to sample rejection or loss of premium for growers
- Keep varieties separate
Segregate varieties in store. Mixing can affect saleability
- Dry correctly and store at correct moisture
Malting barley may lose germination power if stored at too high a moisture content. Longer storage may require grain to be dried down further. Monitor crops frequently during storage and be aware of the moisture levels that buyers require
- Use correct storage temperature
Unsuitable temperatures may encourage attack by mould and/or pests