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High nitrogen price impacts wheat v spring barley options Factor in fertiliser cost with spring cropping decisions

Cereal growers deciding when to stop planting winter wheat so fields can be put into spring barley may need to factor in continued high fertiliser costs.

Last year’s kind autumn saw good progress with winter wheat drilling. But as drilling shifts later, there comes a point when deciding to drill a spring crop instead becomes more attractive, says Syngenta seeds portfolio marketing manager Kathryn Hamlen.

Typically, this decision revolves around factors such as the declining yield potential of winter wheat with later drilling and concerns about crop establishment, says Mrs Hamlen. But high fertiliser costs mean the lower nitrogen fertiliser requirement of spring malting barley has increasingly become part of the equation.

“Clearly, fertiliser doses need calculating on a field-by-field basis, taking into account factors such as location restrictions, soil type and previous crop.”

Trials have indicated that the optimum nitrogen fertiliser dose for the popular spring malting barley variety Laureate is 125-150 kg/ha when targeting brewing or 100-125 kg/ha when targeting malt distilling.

This was based on achieving a good yield while not exceeding a grain nitrogen content of 1.75% for brewing or of 1.65% for malt distilling. And it is much less than the 200kg/ha of nitrogen fertiliser that might be applied to a winter feed wheat crop,

Wet weather

Although by far the vast majority of winter wheat has now been drilled, many fields of winter wheat are planted later, after sugar beet and potatoes – typically involving increased difficulty preparing seedbeds during wet winter weather.

Seed rates also typically need increasing with later drilling to account for reduced plant establishment and tillering, and different winter wheat varieties have different latest sowing dates based on their vernalisation requirements, which growers need to check.

“If opting to grow spring malting barley, look for a variety that has shown consistent performance and that offers flexibility to target brewing and malt distilling markets to help manage risk, such as Laureate.”

“With any cereal crop, sowing into good seedbeds is also vital, and spring barley is no exception. But spring barley has a wide drilling window – it can be sown through to April in appropriate situations, allowing plenty of time for preparing seedbeds.

Disease risk

“In suitable situations, it is also possible to drill spring barley in December, which can give a strong crop with higher yield potential. However, this increases disease risk, and it doesn’t suit every situation, so it may be better to delay into the New Year to allow soil and weather conditions to improve.

“Whichever crop is planted, be aware that certain restrictions on the use of crop protection products may apply, not only based on whether the variety is listed as a winter or spring variety but also depending on the crop’s planting date.

“This, along with fertiliser dose, is worth seeking qualified advice on.”