With March now here, winter barley management and spring barley sowing will be to the fore of farmers’ minds over the coming weeks, according to Teagasc.

John Galvin, Teagasc drystock and tillage advisor, Galway, offered advice on these two themes, highlighting that, at present – following a very wet January and February – land still remains unfit to travel and field work has to be put on hold until weather conditions improve.

August and September of 2020 were dryer than previous years which gave greater opportunity for the sowing of winter crops, in particular winter barley.

So although spring barley will remain to be the dominant crop for cereal growers in the west, its area will be reduced on last year, Galvin noted.

Winter Barley Management

The advisor says farmers should walk crops and observe for “yellowing” – and carry out plant counts, with a target of 1,100-1,200 shoots/m².

An application of nitrogen at 50kgN/ha – along with 38kgP/ha and 100kgK/ha – on soils at Index 3 is vital in late February and early March, especially if growth increases and to replace offtakes, Galvin noted, adding:

Earlier but smaller nitrogen applications may be warranted on backward/thin crops to help them close in. The main nitrogen dressing of 130-150kgN/ha may be given in two splits at GS 30-31.

Annual meadow grass and broad leaf weeds will need urgent control by herbicides, especially on crops that received no autumn herbicide; however, active growth is required before application, he said.

For disease prevention and control, two to three fungicide applications along with a plant growth regulator will be required at key growth stages of the crop; end of tillering (late March), first node (mid-April) and flag leaf stage (early to mid May).

These are approximate dates and will vary from farm to farm and indeed field to field, the advisor cautioned.

Spring Barley Sowing

Turning to spring barley, Galvin highlighted that early to mid-March is the ideal time to sow barley, with the yield potential declining after mid-April.

When picking a variety it is important to consider what performed well in previous seasons and also to refer to the Department of Agriculture Recommended List to compare the agronomic and quality characteristics.

The advisor said: “RGT Planet leads the way regarding yield potential but if there are concerns about lodging especially in fields coming from ley or on exposed sites SY Errigal or Gangway may be safer options as both have better ratings for straw breakdown and resistance to lodging.

Check variety availability with your local merchant. Certified blue label seed is retailing at approximately €550/t.

“In order to grow a high yielding barley crop, 300-325 plants/m² are required to produce 1,000 heads/m², with an establishment rate of 85-90%, 350-380 seeds/m² must be planted.

“This translates into 160-190kg/ha or 10-12st/ac depending on the 1,000 grain weight of the seed been sown,” he added.

The advisor stressed:

High plant counts are vital as there is a direct correlation between grain numbers and yield in barley and, unlike wheat and oats, it cannot compensate for lower plant and tiller numbers.

Following on from correct sowing and good plant establishment, promoting plant tillering with timely nitrogen applications, early weed intervention and prompt fungicide treatments (if disease is present) is key, Galvin concluded.