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A new generation of winter barley varieties could boost rotations and margins while helping growers achieve greater crop diversity. New varieties look set to forge better future for winter barley

A new generation of winter barley varieties could boost rotations and margins while helping growers achieve greater crop diversity.

Investment is delivering varieties with higher yield potential, says Kirsty Richards of breeders KWS. The leading two-row varieties now offer yields comparable to those achieved by the best six-rows with improved agronomic features as well, she says.

“KWS Tardis created a bit of a stir when it was added to the 2021/22 RL at the end of last year. Not only was it the highest yielding two-row on the list, it was also producing yields equivalent to many six-row hybrids.”

For many growers, this means there’s no reason why a conventional two-row barley cannot now be a more profitable cropping option than a second wheat – so long as the management and variety choice are correct.

Variable costs for barley can be 75% of wheat, says Dr Richards. Then there is the additional revenue from barley straw which, at about £65/t baled ex-field, can add an extra £180/ha to the sale price of grain.

“Winter barley is often the first crop to be harvested, helping to spread the summer workload and make way for cultivations so for many there is no better entry for oilseed rape.” 

Increasing yields

In addition, Dr Richards says fungicide timings are typically a week earlier than wheat, helping to spread the sprayer workload – and reduce the pressure on wheat application timings.

KWS Tardis follows a line of two-row barleys that have been steadily pushing yields higher in recent years. Varieties like KWS Cassia and KWS Orwell are proving very popular with growers, she explains.

“With over 10 years of service under its belt, KWS Cassia has served feed barley growers well but many realise the newer varieties can deliver so much more,” says Dr Richards.

“KWS Hawking, for example, is an ultra-reliable high-yielding low-risk variety, with strong straw and no agronomic weaknesses that takes two-row feed yields up a notch. 

“At 103% of control in 2021/22, it is a variety recommended for the whole of the UK, but experience has shown it’s at its best in the east where it has delivered 105% of control in KWS trials. 

“Not only does it deliver on straw strength over KWS Gimlet, it has better lodging resistance than LG Mountain and Jordan, and at a score of 5, better mildew than KWS Orwell.”

An added benefit is that KWS Hawking is earlier maturing. In KWS UK trials for the past two seasons, the variety was way ahead of its stablemates by reaching ear emergence in May. 

“At 106% of control in the current UK RL, it’s the highest yielding two-row barley by some margin but it’s only 1% behind the highest yielding six rows and hybrids,” says Dr Richards.

“It absolutely flies in the east, being beaten by just one hybrid six-row variety on the entire RL and then only by 1%. In the field KWS Tardis is very vigorous getting out of the blocks quickly with good standing power.”

KWS Hawking is the only variety on the recommended list with 1% lodging without PGR.  Its overall lodging resistance score is 8, which Dr Richards says plays a key role in its performance on heavier soils. This is 110% of control in the list, where it outields everything bar one hybrid.

“Agronomically, it’s a medium height variety at 92cm with a really strong disease package including a 7 for Rynchosporium resistance and a 5 for net blotch plus it’s BYMV resistant.”

BYDV tolerance

As for the future, it isn’t all about high yielding two-row barley varieties. KWS Feeris – the latest variety – is a conventional six-row winter barley that brings BYDV tolerance to the market in a realistic package.

“It’s a variety suited to all regions of the UK. Like other six-row barleys, KWS Feeris has excellent yield potential but really stands out in the west. 

“It has a good all-round disease package including 7 for Rhynchosporium and 8 for net botch coupled to BYMV resistance and BYDV tolerance.

“KWS Feeris is reasonably tall-strawed at 94cm but a good 5-10cm shorter than commercial hybrid 6-rows. 

“It’s a great variety in itself but when coupled with the added benefit of BYDV tolerance, it provides excellent risk management for barley growers in high pressure hotspots – and those looking to push drilling as early as possible.”