How to weigh up the pros and cons of growing winter barley

Teagasc has assessed the reasons why winter barley has been such a disappointing crop for Irish farmers in 2022.

How to weigh up the pros and cons of growing winter barley

How to weigh up the pros and cons of growing winter barley

Tillage specialist Ciaran Collins has determined that the early sowing of these crops is fraught with lots of challenges. Or, put another way, Barley Yellow Dwarf Virus (BYDV) is just too large a threat to contend with.

He commented: “From talking to farmers over the last few weeks, many were left disappointed by the performance of winter barley, in what was otherwise a very good harvest.

“Many commented that spring barley out performed winter crops with much less cost and risk.

“Indeed, it is the term risk that has so many farmers feeling nervous about growing the crop for the coming season, especially given the prices being quoted for fertiliser recently.”

Costs involved in winter barley

Teagasc’s Costs and Returns for 2023 shows that winter barley will cost between €300/ha and €400/ha more to grow than spring barley.

“So it is no wonder many will wait until they see what is going to happen to prices in the spring before deciding to drill,” Collins explained.

“However, as we all know, rarely are two years the same. So, while winter barley may have been the poor relation in 2022, this could very well be a different story in 2023.”

Reasons for poor returns

Collins has identified a number of reasons why winter barley crops performed badly in 2022.

Drilling too early: Some crops were drilled in mid- to late September; this will have increased disease and lodging pressure, while also making BYDV more difficult to control.

Second cereal slot: Second wheats are now nearly a thing of the past given the cost of growing winter wheat, so winter barley has been grown on many farms in that slot. Barley can also suffer from take-all; this will have been exaggerated by early drilling.

Weeds: Grass weeds were evident in some crops with bromes and wild oats among others, competing for light and resources.

P and K holidays: With the price of fertiliser this spring, there was plenty of discussion about reducing the amount of phosphorous (P) and potassium (K) applied to crops. In instances where soil indices were low or pH was very high, this could have impacted crop growth and development during the spring.

Tank mixing: The lists of products going into tank mixes seems to be getting longer and longer by the year. Last spring saw crops being scorched in March and April from too many chemicals being applied at the same time. Barley usually doesn’t recover from this.

Disease control: Many growers went from a three-spray strategy to a two-spray strategy and while disease levels were generally low, some crops did suffer especially from ramularia late on.

Spray timings: The change from a three- to a two-spray strategy did affect the timings of the fungicide applications, with the final fungicide being applied far too late in some cases.

Ramularia: 2022 seemed to be a high ramularia year and the loss of chlorothalonil was keenly felt, although folpet in a mixture with an azole does give a reasonable response.

“There were also plenty of crops that did perform well in 2022. Generally these were in good rotations and had received organic manures or the recommended levels of N [nitrogen], P and K,” Collins added.

“October-planted crops also seemed to perform better with less disease early on and seemed to have less Barley Yellow Dwarf Virus in them.”

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