Growing case for UK farms to produce more winter barley

UK farming businesses are missing out significantly by not growing more winter barley and the advantages of this rotationally valuable crop will only increase in the future, KWS UK believes.

Winter barley has an increasing role to play at a time when many farming businesses are looking to diversify and lengthen their rotations, believes KWS UK Cereals Product Manager Dr Kirsty Richards.

It's a crop that helps significantly to spread management workloads throughout the growing season, particularly in wheat-based systems, and could help farms deal with more variable growing conditions likely to be experienced in the future, she says.

“Adding winter barley to cropping plans helps to spread risk across rotations and has significant management benefits.

"The case for growing more of it is cemented by the new varieties which are coming onto the market and those which will be introduced over the next few years, bringing increasingly useful traits such as BYDV tolerance to the fore."

From a management standpoint, the fact that winter barley is drilled in late August and early September helps to spread the autumn workload, she adds.

"That’s a real benefit in ensuring farms can establish their full planned area of autumn crops, a particularly pertinent consideration given the challenging nature of some recent autumn drilling periods.

"Further factors in the crop’s favour are its variable costs, approximately 75% those of wheat, and the fact that in the second cereal slot it delivers higher yields than wheat under similar nitrogen regimes.

"Winter barley reaches its optimum T0, T1 and T2 spray timings two to three weeks before winter wheat, helping to spread the workload at this critical time in the season.

"Earlier harvesting is another major advantage of winter barley and helps to spread the combine’s workload, potentially avoiding the worst of the weather at the end of the season.

"Being the first of the new season cereals to be harvested also brings significant marketing opportunities. Plus, there is the value of its straw to factor in."

KWS Tardis (11-12 x KWS Orwell) is an excellent example of a modern high-yielding 2-row winter feed barley with a great combination of high grain quality and agronomics making it a true farm favourite, she points out.

"KWS Tardis delivers excellent yields across the UK (103% of controls) combined with a very high specific weight, performs well on light soils (102% of controls) and is particularly strong in the East of the country where it yields 105% of controls.

"KWS Tardis is the only winter barley on the 2023/24 Recommended List with twin 8s for standing, an essential benefit on heaver land where it yields 107% of controls."

Additionally, it has one of the best untreated yields available (85% of treated controls), is early to mature (0 days+/- KWS Orwell) and delivers marketable grain with a very good specific weight (70.6kg/hl) and low screenings, easily fulfilling the requirements of domestic and export feed barley markets, she adds.

"An excellent agronomic package, including a 6 for Rhynchosporium resistance, a 5 for Net Blotch resistance and an 8 for lodging resistance, Barley Yellow Mosaic Virus resistance, add to its appeal.

"This is allied to superb in-field performance, making KWS Tardis a great choice for growers looking for a simple and reliable way to expand their rotations and spread workloads."

Adding winter barley to cropping plans helps to spread risk across rotations and has significant management benefits.
Kirsty Richards, Cereals Product Manager

Chris Piggott, Regional Seed Manager for Frontier Agriculture Ltd, says KWS Tardis is a very strong choice in the two-row sector.

"The variety presents so well and in terms of its grain quality, starts from a high point, so it is very difficult for those in this market to look past it.

“Having KWS Orwell in its parentage gives growers confidence that it will deliver, so it is no surprise that KWS Tardis represents our largest area of any two-row this season, and by some margin.

"The variety comes out favourably across a range of growing scenarios, offering an excellent blend of yield and quality with much lower screening levels than six-row barleys, which nevertheless have their place."

KWS Tardis also provides an excellent balance of disease resistance, which is becoming increasingly important with all cereals.

“Different seasons present different challenges and the warm, wet weather in spring and early summer 2023 resulted in some very lush crops with lots of biomass.

"Where they received enough sunlight to maximise their full potential, we saw some very high yields.

Although the variety produces a lot of straw, that straw is very stiff, he points out.

"As the only winter barley on the 2023/24 Recommended List to score 8 for resistance to lodging, both with and without PGR, KWS Tardis ticks all the boxes from a farmer’s perspective.

“Commodity prices have a significant effect on farmers’ growing decisions and because barley traded at a significant discount to wheat last year, a higher-than-normal area of wheat was drilled.

"Businesses will need to manage the large areas coming out of that crop, particularly second or even third wheats, and many will choose to drill more winter barley this autumn.

“Given the high costs of production and significant fluctuations in output prices farmers are looking to maximise certainty wherever possible."

Whilst many growers were once willing to take on significant risks, the downsides are now so great that they are looking to de-risk all aspects of their businesses, he says.

“When it comes to choosing which varieties to sow there is a greater focus on those which represent ‘a safe pair of hands’, namely that they deliver consistent performance and quality in all situations.

"High levels of disease resistance and excellent standing ability are increasingly key factors in their choice.

“From what we have seen this season, KWS Tardis will be our largest-selling two-row winter barley for 2023/24. It ticks all the boxes.”

Harvesting KWS Tardis on Heathcote Farms

Harvesting KWS Tardis on Heathcote Farms

Consistent on-farm performer

KWS Tardis genuinely is the complete package when it comes to winter barley, believes Andrew Robinson, Farms Director at Heathcote Farms Ltd, in Bedfordshire.

Widely recognised for attention to detail in crop production Andrew says that when selecting which winter barley to grow his most important considerations are its brackling score, screenings and standing ability.

“There are a lot of varieties out there which look good on paper, but it’s not just about headline yields.

“We farm a wide range of soils, mainly heavy clay but with areas of greensand, Denchworth Series and chalky loam. Some are very fertile and not all our land is flat, so it is critical that we are able to be able to harvest what we have grown.

"To do that we must be able to get the combine header under the crop, which means growing varieties with good standing ability and low levels of brackling."

KWS Tardis is easy to grow, vigorous and covers the ground well, which helps to suppress blackgrass, he states.

"The variety is hardy, got away well after being drilled on 24 September, coped well with the often wet, warm, windy conditions through the growing season, and stood well on a mix of soils.

"We take tissue samples before T1, T2 and T3 applications, use a robust spray programme and apply trace elements where necessary, including phosphite in the autumn and spring. In view of the often-challenging season the crop was shockingly clean.

“With KWS Tardis, we lost a lot less ears this season than ever before. That reflected in an average yield for the variety of 11.14t/ha, with a specific weight of 66.8kg/hl, compared with our long-term averages for winter barley of 10.07t/ha and 67 – 68kg/hl.

“The 180ha of winter barley which we grew for 2023 harvest included just over 100ha of KWS Tardis and the tonnage harvested from the same area was higher than ever before.

"We have the same area of winter barley planned for coming season, but the percentage of this variety will increase. It performs well and consistently over a wide range of soil types and conditions, which is exactly what we want.

“In terms of its longevity, I think that KWS Tardis could well be the next KWS Cassia and be around for a long time."

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Kirsty Richards
Kirsty Richards
Conventional Crops Product Manager
Tel.: 07748 960726
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