Reducing the risk of brackling…a farmer’s view

As spring barley varieties increase in yield other factors can become problematic. Brackling is one such problem and can cause serious losses at harvest.

David Kehoe – a cereal farmer and contractor – from Co. Wexford spoke at the BASF Technical Conference this week in Co. Kilkenny on strategies that he uses to reduce the risk of brackling in his crops.

David supplies straw to the horse market and as a result needs a high-quality product.

Brackling can affect straw quality, as well as resulting in a reduction in grain yield. The problem can also result in less efficient harvesting of the crop, as cutting can be slower.

David explained six of the most important management practices affecting brackling:
  1. Variety resistance;
  2. Soil and applied potassium (K);
  3. Soil and applied manganese;
  4. Nitrogen rate;
  5. Fungicide choice;
  6. Crop maturity at harvest.


David outlined variety as the most important factor affecting the risk of brackling and added that many malting varieties can be weak in this characteristic.

As a result, he sows varieties which have stronger brackling scores in his spring barley crops destined for the feed market to allow early harvest of weaker varieties.


Potassium is extremely important for straw strength and therefore can reduce the risk of the problem.

As a result, David plants crops at high risk of brackling – spring barley – on land that is in index 3 for K. He also ensures he applies sufficient artificial K and sometimes applies K late in the season.


David also avoids sites which are manganese deficient as crops can often have weaker straw where this is the case. He uses manganese dressed seed in deficient conditions, keeps tight seedbeds and applies foliar manganese.

Nitrogen timing and rate

David explained that he aims to plant early and apply nitrogen early to avoid high proteins and straw brackling. In 2018, David applied all of his nitrogen into the seedbed, due to the late sowing date.

He added that if he is using a variety that is prone to brackling he does not push it for yield like he would with other varieties.


David has not seen any great reduction in brackling from the use of plant growth regulators. However, he did notice improved straw quality between different fungicides.

He added that the early use of fungicides can protect straw quality from the start of the season, which in turn can help to prevent brackling. In the drought of last summer David explained that he thinks Venture Extra helped to reduce brackling.


It goes without saying that as the crop matures, the level of brackling increases. David targets varieties prone to brackling first at harvest time, as leaving varieties more prone to brackling can result in a higher yield loss.

David advised to the attendance at the conference to sow the variety that is weak on brackling early to set yourself up for an early harvest.

“The way I look at it tackling brackling is not one step; you need all the steps together to change the picture,” David concluded.