Hybrid Winter Barley: You need a very good reason not to grow it in 2022

Early June is always a favourite time of mine to walk into winter crops and admire the power of nature. Crops are the fullest at this time of year, and it is nice to reflect on your work so far – like a rest stop when climbing a mountain.

From speaking to growers and agronomists around the country, Belfry hybrid barley is looking exceptionally well in 2021. One point to note from this spring is the higher-than-normal radiation levels we got in Ireland – or energy from the sun.

If you get high radiation levels and the temperatures stay cool, plants go through their growth stages slowly and can fully utilise that extra energy from the sun. Winter barley and wheat stores this energy as stem sugars which are used to fill the grain, especially if the grain fill weather is not great in summer. 

So, a bright, cool spring is a good buffer against a poor summer.

The graph here is taken from Met Éireann. It is from the stations nearest to the main crop growing areas: Cork, Carlow, Wexford, and Dublin.

 

Belfry hybrid winter barley

With Belfry, we try to encourage an early plant growth regulator at growth stage 30, or when the crop starts to perk up after the winter.  If you can imagine, Belfry’s main stem is eager to grow, but we want to hold this back and allow the side shoots to catch up. 

In the video below, I walked a Belfry crop in April and found the crop ‘crunching’ under my feet, and could not tell the main stems from the side shoots (they were all even). 

A crop like this will benefit from a spring like 2021, and have high stem sugars in reserve.

 

If you are checking hybrid barley this week or next to see how it is doing, here are three things to look out for:

  • Crop trips you up if walking flat-footed across it and sounds a bit ‘crunchy’;
  • Evenness of tillers (3-4 nice fat shoots on each plant roughly the thickness 5/8 bolt);
  • Nice clean leaves when you look down, covering the ground.           

A reliable variety

Speaking to farmers and advisors, we try to get a sense of what attributes they look for in a variety. 

Of course, everyone starts by saying high yields as that pays the bills, but when we probe a little further, people want a reliable variety that will not let them down.

 In my time as an advisor, I have never seen a barley as reliable as Belfry. 

It is the most consistent winter barley we have in Ireland, and its performance in trials is unrivalled. 

 

The graph below summarises all the trial results conducted by the Department of Agriculture, Food and Marine (DAFM) from 2016 to 2020, which included Belfry.

 

Simply put, Belfry has outyielded the control varieties in 26 out of 30 trials, something no other winter barley has done – and that included a summer drought in 2018, a dreadful winter in 2019 and a dry spring in 2020. 

We do not usually see a variety that is so consistent, and this is a real bonus for growers.  In tillage farming, where the weather is the deciding factor of our fortunes, it is nice to know Belfry is an ultra-reliable variety to grow. 

Another aspect of the DAFM trials is that some are carried out on commercial farms where the farmer decides the seedbed preparations, fertiliser, spraying, so not ‘specially selected’ for Belfry. 

A challenging 2021 spring

So far, 2020 autumn has been easy on crops, but the cool and dry spring in 2021 has been challenging. Spray scorches were evident on every farm, and stunted areas are common in fields.  However, Belfry has taken all this on the chin, powered on and looks very promising. 

Seedtech has four simple steps to remember when growing Belfry (drill 200 seeds/m2, apply fertiliser and PGR early in spring and correct combine settings), but this is not possible in the DAFM trials. So that tells me Belfry is naturally able to perform – like a good footballer or hurler. 

So, having Belfry on your farm this autumn is a smart choice, and you would want a very good reason not to grow Belfry in 2022.

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