It is important to get the basics right for spring barley from the start; cultivations, soil fertility, variety and sowing rate, Teagasc says.

After experiencing normal or average rainfall and temperatures for January and February, any hopes of getting an early spring have been undone with a very cold and wet start to March.

Whilst sowing ideally should take place before mid-march, wait until conditions are right for cultivation.

For 2015, it is important that farmers thinking of sowing spring barley familiarise themselves with the changes to CAP and the introduction of the Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) and greening rules.

The principles for achieving a high yielding and profitable crop have not changed, however the margins for errors have narrowed considerably with upward pressures on costs and downward pressure being put on grain prices for harvest 2015.

The important factors are as follows:

Cultivations & Sowing

  • Sow spring barley as early as conditions allow in March.
  • A fine firm seedbed with as little cultivations as possible is required for fast and even germination and good root development.
  • Spring barley is best sown at depth of three to five cm and rolled after sowing in good conditions to ensure soil to seed contact.

Soil Fertility

  • Have up to date soil analysis results is the most important step in achieving optimum soil fertility.
  • Barley demands a minimum pH of 6.5. Ground limestone should be spread and tilled into the soil to raise the pH to its optimum level.
  • Aim to have all fields at P and K index three. This is the optimum level for the soil to maximise the yield potential of the barley crop.
  • A typical fertiliser programme for spring barley (3t/acre) on index three soil would be three bags of 18:6:12/acre at sowing plus two bags of CAN (27%N)/acre at early tillering.
  • Additional P and K is required on index one and two soils and ideally should be drilled with the seed.
  • Using organic manures can be a means of reducing the fertiliser bill. There is no longer a requirement for soil organic matter testing of lands in continuous tillage.

Seed Variety & Sowing Rates

  • Past performance of varieties, both on your own farm and nationally should be the criteria used when selecting a variety for the upcoming season.
  • It is important to look at the Department of Agriculture – the 2015 recommended list is available on the Department’s website to assess the agronomic and quality characteristics. Certified blue label seed is being priced at €500-550/tonne.
  • For a grower to achieve a high yielding crop of barley, this requires the establishment of 280-320 plants/m2 which will produce approximately 1000 grain heads/m2.
  • In order to achieve this, a sowing rate ranging from 10st/ac to 12st/ac depending on sowing date, variety and more importantly the 1,000 grain wt. (TGW) of the seed/variety been sown.
  • There is a direct correlation between grain numbers and yield in barley. Therefore, it cannot be over emphasised enough, the importance of getting good establishment of plants.

At the time of writing this article the forward price for green barley is €135-140/tonne + VAT which changes from day to day depending on currency, winter kill estimates in Russia and the Balkans and investor sentiment.

At €140/tonne there is a gross margin of approximately €50/acre (incl. straw) according to Teagasc Crops Costs & Returns 2015. In conclusion, when sowing barley, know the costs involved and the yield required to secure a margin. Have a market for your crop.

Remember; sowing and growing spring barley is a numbers game, get the seeding rate right, nourish the plants with correct and timely amounts of fertiliser, monitor and protect the plants early from weeds, pests and disease. Delay or neglect on any of these especially at early to mid-tillering and the game is over; the crop of barley will not reach its full potential.

By John Galvin, Teagasc Adviser, Galway/Clare Regional Unit