Growers whose planting plans were thrown into disarray by last year’s appalling back end must make getting the rotation back on track for the coming autumn their Number One priority with spring sowing.
Otherwise, they are in very real danger of making a bad position even worse by compromising both their 2009 drilling and weed control.
This is the firm advice of ProCam technical specialist Nick Myers who insists that spring barley has to be the crop of choice for most despite the likelihood that increased plantings will decimate malting premiums.
“Spring cropping always needs to be aimed at the quality end of the market, but don’t necessarily expect to achieve very much extra value this season,” he warns. “On paper, other crops look like a better bet than barley at feed values. However, this fundamentally depends on delivering sufficient quality as well as decent yields. Equally, many crops will drive back harvesting, adding to the oilseed rape drilling challenge in particular.
“Peas should only really be grown where soil conditions are favourable. Spring beans are less sensitive but late to harvest. As well as being late harvested, spring oilseed rape is hugely risky too. As is linseed.
“Fallowing offers perhaps the best autumn entry for oilseed rape but it’s far from a low cost solution,” Nick Myers points out. “It plays havoc with whole farm profitability by loading all the overheads onto a reduced crop area. What’s more, it generally leaves the soil in far less good condition than a crop, and it can easily lead to serious weed problems if not very well managed.
“Which brings us back to spring barley. At the average 6.25t/ha achieved by our 4Cast recorded growers over the past three years, we calculate it will deliver gross margins of around £300/ha in 2009 at feed prices. This is nothing special. But it will make a useful contribution to overheads. It is far more familiar and less risky for most growers. It can also be harvested early enough to give a good autumn entry for either OSR or wheat, allowing the rotation to be re-established from the best possible base.”
In Nick Myers’ view spring barley also has the advantage of a wide drilling window up to mid-March. This means growers can afford to wait for reasonable seedbed preparation conditions rather than having to rush in when the land is unsuitable and risk creating even greater problems.
It also means growers can achieve one if not two good rounds of early season pre-planting weed control providing they use a glyphosate formulated to perform under tough, relatively cold conditions and with a short cultivation interval.
“A big advantage of spring cropping is the extra opportunity it gives to control problem weeds outside the growing crop,” he stresses. “I’d make the most of this by going in with Roundup Max before cultivating the ground and leaving it set up for final seedbed preparation as soon as conditions permit.
“Then I’d spray off any regrowth again just ahead of drilling or use Roundup in the pre-em mix if time gets short. This will really clobber both grass and broadleaved weeds, allowing the barley to get going with so it can rapidly out-compete any late-emergers. Nine times out of 10 it will do this very much better than just about any other spring crop.”
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