13th January 2021

Whole-farm approach contributes to award winning crops

Dave Bell_LG Diablo spring barley

High health soil played a key role for East Fife-based mixed farmer David Bell, whose crop of LG Diablo won Gold in the 2020 YEN for highest spring barley yield with 11.3 t/ha, in addition to winning Silver for achieving best yield potential at 83%.

The desire to push the crop was balanced against the need to sell it, and as it was destined for malting, ensuring low nitrogen (N) was key, reveals David, adding that the farm is in a nitrogen vulnerable zone (NVZ).

As such, the crop only received the farm practice amount of 130 kg N/ha, applied at planting, along with an early application of phosphate, potash and sulphur.

However, he points out that it is not only the amount of fertiliser in one season, it is the whole-farm perspective which plays a role in achieving the best possible crops.

LG Diablo spring barley

“The high health index of the soil the crop was grown in, alongside the strength of our rotations, will have meant there was a lot of soil N available, and this will have contributed to keeping the plants growing towards their potential.

“Our rotations are based around growing potatoes one year in six; we grow winter and spring barley and we have a suckler beef herd for finishing.”

Having livestock on the farm allows him to have grass in the rotation, and the manure from the cattle is also spread, which helps build soil organic matter.

Planted on 25th March, the LG Diablo was conventionally drilled into clay loam soil with a medium to high tilth, that had been ploughed and received one pass.

“It was rolled to consolidate and maintain moisture before the drought, and so had a chance to get established.”

Having grown LG Diablo for four seasons, David and his agronomist Iain Anderson understand the variety’s needs for attention to detail, for it to be a star performer.

“Because of the spring drought, we wanted to make sure stress levels were kept to a minimum, so we used trace elements and biostimulants alongside growth regulators.

“The seed, sourced from his seed rep Douglas Bonn of Nickerson Seeds, had been treated with manganese, and we topped that up to make sure it was not short.

“We did tissue analysis to identify any shortages, which is better than waiting for symptoms of a condition to appear, and then treated the crop accordingly.”

A biostimulant was used to improve amino acid uptake, and David noticed the difference in crop development between those which received the treatment and those which did not, as they were unable to access nutrients.

Crop protection was tailored according to the field and IPM thresholds, and he used fungicide to maximise green leaf coverage for biomass, which helped push yield.

David Bell in his LG Diablo crop

The crop was harvested at the end of August 2020.

Although he enters the YEN competition, David insists it is not the whole story, as across the whole farm there are variable yields, and he wants to improve the overall farm performance, not just the one field.

“The YEN is about sharing information between growers to help us improve, and the metrics help you see the benefits.

“We use programmes such as the YEN, plus trusted and independent knowledge platforms like AHDB and SRUC, to improve our knowledge. We then try out new ideas and strategies to see what works.”

For 2021 Harvest, David will be progressing into reduced tillage and a direct drilling system where possible.

“Thanks to microbial activity, nitrogen mineralisation and high organic matter, we will be able to transition to direct drilling, although the spring crops will need some increased tilth for establishment.”

When it comes to choice of which spring barley to grow, David points out that LG Diablo is in demand by the maltsters, and his decisions on which spring barley variety to grow are very much based on what he can sell.

“It’s a quality product and the market wants it.”

Douglas Bonn of Nickerson Seeds, notes that forward thinking from a whole-farm perspective pays dividends on crop yield and quality.

“The application of farmyard manure over time, has built up inherent soil fertility as the biology has improved.

“I particularly noticed on walking the crop, that it had high tiller density which translated into a high yield and good quality, with a nitrogen level of 1.48.

“The physical character of the grain was excellent, with no issues getting the whole crop accepted by the maltsters.”

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