Understanding how agronomic features and end markets will influence variety choice in England

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15 February 2022, England: In general this winter has been fairly mild, with plenty of moisture in December, but turning drier in January.  In the East of England spring barley drilling started in early Feb, with some reports of January planting dates.  But with rain in the forecast there could be a wide range of drilling dates this season.

In last month’s edition we spoke about seed rate.

Early drilled and late drilled spring barley have different risks associated with them.  Knowing these risks and susceptibilities of different varieties, along with monitoring throughout the season, can help prioritization.

  • Earlier drilled spring barley is exposed to disease inoculum for longer and therefore has an increased risk of Rhynchosporium and brown rust. 
  • Late drilled spring barley has a greater risk of lodging and higher potential for BYDV infection. 

Planting date is driven by having enough soil moisture for growth, but dry enough to travel and establish a good seedbed.  Often the first split of nitrogen is added at or just after drilling, and again, good uptake is dependent on having the right level of soil moisture.

Different varieties are suitable for different end uses. The majority of spring barleys grown for malting in the UK are listed on the MAGB Malting Barley Committee Approved List:

However, locally, different maltsters will have preferred varieties and contracts, so it is important to check locally to ensure variety selection is suitable for your local maltster.

  • LAUREATE has full MBC approval for brewing and malt distilling and is widely accepted across England and Scotland
  • SY TUNGSTEN is provisionally approved for brewing and malt distilling with full approval possible in June this year.  Some contracts will be available for SY Tungsten, so check locally before committing to the newest varieties.
  • SY SPLENDOR is provisionally approved for brewing with full approval possible in June this year.  Although contracts may be limited this year it is a good option for a feed variety as it has excellent straw and grain characteristics.

Local contracts will specify the % Grain Nitrogen required along with other criteria such as screenings and specific weight.  Some varieties can be used for multiple markets, so getting the nitrogen right is key to gaining premiums for malting barley. Tailoring nitrogen inputs for both rates and timings will help to achieve the required specification:

  • Low nitrogen contracts below 1.65%: Lower total N required, Syngenta trials found no significant difference in yield or % grain nitrogen between applying 100% in the seedbed or in 2 splits, applied before GS15.
  • UK domestic brewing contracts between approximately 1.6 and 1.75%: Two splits will help to achieve the higher % grain N. Follow RB209 guidance on splits and timings.
  • High nitrogen contracts above 1.85%:  Syngenta trials showed increasing total nitrogen has the biggest impact on grain nitrogen, but a later application can also help to boost it.

It is important to adapt to the crop as the season progresses.  Drill dates, establishment rates and nitrogen applications will directly impact management of the crop canopy later in the year.  PGRs and fungicides will all need to be tailored to the season to keep the crop healthy and standing, more on this in our next instalment.

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