How to choose between two-row and six-row barleys

With modern two-row barleys now pushing the best of the six-row hybrids for yield and disease resistance, how do you decide which way is best when aiming to build the benefits of barley into a sustainable rotation.

KWS Tardis created a bit of a stir when it was added to the 2021/22 RL being not only the highest yielding two-row on the list but also rivalling the performance of many six-row hybrid varieties, says KWS technical specialist Olivia Potter.

At 106% of control yield equating to an output of over 10t/ha it was just 1% behind the best of the six-rows at 107% controls, representing a difference of less than 0.1t/ha, she points out.

"It's lived up to expectations in the field since then with many growers switching from their longstanding favourite two-rows such as KWS Hawking, Cassia and Orwell to take advantage of Tardis' superior yield and field performance.

"But it's also presented some six-row barley advocates with a bit of a dilemma as it's proven perfectly capable of delivering the same yield in the field with simpler management and lower overall production costs.

"A good two-row barley can definitely be a more economical choice when cost of production is an issue, as it has been for many growers in recent years, and when the best conventional options can produce such high yields.

"KWS Tardis is especially strong in the east where it produces a yield 105% of control in the latest RL and, thanks to its super stiff straw, performs well on heavy land where it delivers yields of 107% controls."

Versatility and resilience

Such versatility and in-built resilience has given it genuine countrywide appeal, she says.

"Requirements for a barley variety are different depending on where a grower is in the country.

"In the west, for example, quite a lot of barley is grown for home feeding and price of production and outright yield are clearly important. Conventional varieties are popular and once established, a variety can stay on-farm for many years.

"This is where KWS Tardis' stiff straw, strong disease resistance and good yield potential - it's still delivers 102% of controls in the west - have resulted in it dislodging many traditional choices.

"A high specific weight of 70.6 kg/hl has also helped with this adding to its appeal in the east, too.

"In these areas, more barley goes into feed and export contracts so a good bold grain sample is important and KWS Tardis' very low screenings also give it potential to open up a range of high value marketing opportunities.

"The variety's stiff straw and performance on heavy soils are also important factors for growers in the east, particularly this in fenland areas where lodging can be a real problem. That stiff straw is also important in areas where there is a lot of rainfall."

Management Considerations

Two-row barleys tend to be more straight forward in their nature than their six-row counterparts and this can lead to simpler management in many cases, Olivia Potter says.

"Six-row hybrids usually need sunshine and an extended grainfill period to produce top yields so in the UK's typical dull early summer conditions this can be a problem.

"This current season looks like it could be really good two-row year because we have had a good amount of water and just 90% of our annual sunshine to date plus, in areas where there has been a lot of rain, stiff straw is a real benefit.

"Hybrids can also require a bit more precision around management particularly with regard to spray applications and PGR timings and the weather does not always allow this. Two-rows do tend to be a bit more flexible and resilient in this respect."

"You would certainly pick a good two-row over a six-row hybrid on more fertile land because of its stiff straw and when average UK weather conditions prevail. Hybrids can rapidly lose yield and specific weight in low light conditions.

"If you need a more conventional harvest date, two-rows should also be first choice as hybrids tend to mature earlier and whilst this offers a good entry to OSR, it might not fit with other cropping."

Six-row hybrid barleys do hold an advantage over some two-rows in that they have increasingly become seen as a useful tool for tackling grass weed problems, she points out.

"The large rooting system of some hybrid barleys, added to excellent autumn vigour, can increase competition with grass weeds below ground.

"Early and spring vigour also enables them to compete with grassweeds for sunlight above ground, giving a smothering effect. But the best two rows are not to dissimilar in this respect."

KWS Tardis follows a line of two-row barleys that have been steadily pushing yields higher in recent years with varieties like KWS Cassia and KWS Orwell proving very popular with growers, Olivia Potter adds.

"With over ten years’ service under its belt, KWS Cassia has served feed barley growers well. It still has the highest specific weight of all barley varieties on the latest RL.

“KWS Hawking is also an ultra-reliable high-yielding low-risk variety, with strong straw and no agronomic weaknesses. An added benefit is that KWS Hawking is an earlier maturing type.

It’s got a really strong set of features that make it attractive to all barley growers wherever they are. In the east, for example, its yield and high specific weight are key but its Rhynchosporium score of 7 also helps make it a safe bet for growers across the country.
Duncan Durno , Openfield Seed Manager

Openfield Seed Manager Duncan Durno says KWS Tardis' broad appeal extends beyond its yield.

"It’s got a really strong set of features that make it attractive to all barley growers wherever they are.

“In the east, for example, its yield and high specific weight are key but its Rhynchosporium score of 7 also helps make it a safe bet for growers across the country.

“That's important in the west of the country where there are potentially wetter conditions and KWS Tardis’, long, tall straw is an added bonus to livestock producers and home-feeders in that region.

“But the good thing about KWS Tardis is that its straw length is not at the expense of standing power and lodging resistance. Its net blotch resistance has proven to be pretty solid as well.”

The other popular feature has been the variety's flexibility with regard to rotations, he says.

"Oilseed rape success, for example, depends on having choices around sowing date so crops are drilled in the best conditions they can be.

“A strong, reliable and early harvesting winter barley in the rotation is one of the best ways creating the time and space growers need to choose the best drilling date possible rather being forced into a narrow number of options.

“Even without OSR, such a variety provides many more management options in the business and the yield, disease resistance and physical features of KWS Tardis have made it the perfect choice for this.”

KWS' five reasons why barley has a growing role in sustainable rotations

Streamlined workloads

The crop’s late August and early September drilling takes a sizeable chunk out of the main autumn workload and this can be of real benefit in getting the full portfolio of autumn crops in. This advantage extends through to the spring too. Winter barley reaches its optimum timings for spray applications (T0, T1 and T2) some 2-3 weeks before winter wheat so this can also help spread workloads throughout the spring.

Earlier harvesting

Earlier harvesting is major advantage of winter barley. Not only does this move harvesting operations forward generally, potentially avoiding the worst of the weather at the end of the season, it also brings significant marketing opportunities. Being the first of the new season cereals to be harvested there is often a range of diverse homes for the crop depending on region, plus there are usually several off-combine export opportunities to be had.

Better OSR establishment

With the trend towards earlier drilling to avoid the worst effects of cabbage stem flea beetle, winter barley provides the perfect entry for oilseed rape. Recent KWS work has underlined the importance of hitting the prime early August drilling slot, with trials showing an average 0.5t/ha yield loss when this is missed and sowing delayed by around 10 days.

More yield from less inputs

The latest varieties of winter barley increase performance by delivering more yield from less inputs due to better disease resistance. KWS Tardis, for example, has an excellent disease package, boasting 6 for rhynchosporium and 5 for net blotch and one of the best untreated yields available at 85% of treated controls.

Stronger disease resistance

New varieties are bringing increasingly useful traits such as BYDV tolerance to the fore offering increased resilience and yield security. KWS Feeris, for example, is suited to all regions of the UK with excellent yield potential and a good all-round disease package including 7 for rhynchosporium and 8 for net blotch coupled BaYMV resistance and BYDV tolerance.

Sign up to our eNewsletter for more news like this!

Your consultants

Kirsty Richards
Kirsty Richards
Conventional Crops Product Manager
Tel.: 07748 960726
Send e-mail