Resilience 'key' to choosing variety of spring barley

FOR the past 50 years, growers of spring barley have concentrated on varieties that promised an extra percentage point or two in yield, but now a senior crop adviser has suggested that the "resilience" of a variety might be more appropriate in the current climate.

Dr Steve Hoad, a crop specialist at the Scottish Agricultural College, was speaking at an open day on a farm at Humbie this week when he said growers should consider how varieties will cope with the wildly differing weather we have nowadays.

The current season, he said, had put stress on spring barley through fluctuations in temperature and lack of rain. Autumn-sown cereals were less susceptible to these variations in the weather as their growth stages were often lengthier, he said.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Dr Hoad reckoned that barley crops in the south-east of Scotland were now reflecting the difficult spring and the lack of rainfall in the past six weeks. Crops in the north-east of the country were not as badly affected.

"The overall growth and development of the 2010 spring barley crop is slightly behind compared to last year, although there is considerable variation in crop development.

"The cold winter months and below-average temperatures in early spring have slowed crop establishment and delayed soil warming. Low rainfall after sowing also slowed growth still further. In the period up to mid-March, some crops were sown in good conditions and ideal seed-beds, but poor weather from mid-to-late March caused delays in many areas so sowing was completed over an extended period into late April or even early May."

Dr Hoad indicated that the big worry was now the lack of moisture and this led to his concern that it was a critical period for some varieties that have, in previous years, shown inconsistent yield and quality. Overall, the potential of the 2010 cereal crop is good, but yields will depend on how much rain and sunshine we have in the next week or so."

Although autumn-sown crops have had to survive one of the most severe winters in living memory, Dr Hoad felt that most crops were looking well.

He attributed this partly to the fact that there have been, so far, low levels of disease because of the cold winter. Also the cold weather encouraged the deep rooting of the crops and now they are benefiting from moisture deep in the soil.

Most of the emphasis on the winter wheat trials organised by the SAC and funded by the Home Grown Cereals Authority focused on the reduction of chemical inputs into growing the crop.