Reduced tillage: Some pointers to getting spring barley right

GETTING cultivation work done properly for spring barley establishment can be a tricky business – and even more so now that reduced tillage is seen as the ‘greener’ way to go.

Now SRUC has produced advice for growers on how to establish the crop in a non-plough system and still be profitable crop. Unlike the long growing season for crops such as winter wheat, the short lifespan of a spring barley crop makes establishment crucial to success.

The Farming for a Better Climate Soil Regenerative Agriculture group has been experimenting with ways to establish spring barley effectively for three years, and Peter Lindsay, principal consultant at SAC Consulting and the group’s facilitator, said there were a few key pointers:

An optimum seed rate is calculated based on the target number of plants per square metre.

Using reduced tillage systems, generally fewer seeds germinate due to uneven seed placement, so increasing the seed rate by 10 to 15% helps to offset this and ensure the target plant number is achieved.

In Scotland, in late March/early April, a standard seed rate of 375s/sqm is normal, therefore in a reduced tillage system, increasing the seed rate to at least 415s/sqm would be prudent, he advised.

However, soil type, weather conditions, variety choice and time of sowing can all effect the seed rate, so preparing tailored calculations is recommended.

Weed control

In reduced tillage systems, grass weeds, such as annual meadow grass, can be an issue. Ensuring good weed control is challenging, and often depends on the weather conditions at the time of sowing.

Recent dry springs reduced the effectiveness of pre-emergence herbicides which require a level of soil moisture for maximum efficacy. Using glyphosate just prior to sowing to create a clean seed bed is one way the Soil Regenerative Group has overcome this problem.

This non-selective herbicide hits all the weeds that have germinated, particularly annual meadow grass, providing minimal competition for the spring barley crop to get established.

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