Barley varietal trials which may reduce dependence on chemicals

Drummonds’ 2022 barley varietal trials are combining the latest plant breeding breakthroughs with new perspectives on crop agronomy.

With the number of spray options in growers’ agronomy ‘toolboxes’ now fast diminishing, agronomists at the company are now looking at ways of growing cereal crops that require a lesser dependence on chemicals.

Blending cereal varieties is one option in this regard. Ongoing winter barley trials at Termonfeckin, Co. Louth feature plots comprising a mix of six varieties.

Agronomist Wesley Martin told Agriland: “By mixing varieties, the expectation is that their respective strength of resistance to specific fungal diseases can help deliver for the crop as a whole.

“The end result should be a reduced reliance on fungicide sprays. This is what we have set out to investigate over a three-year period.

“The varietal mix on the ‘blended’ trial site comprises: Tower; Tardis; Infinity; Bordeaux; Cassia; and Casting.”

Reducing dependence on chemicals

Research work carried out in parts of Europe has suggested that varietal mixtures increase genetic diversity within a field and may help slow the spread of some diseases and reduce the risk of resistance breakdown.

“And such an approach is not new to Ireland. Previously, cereal growers in this country would have sown out a different cereal variety on headlands in order to improve the management of the overall field,” Wesley Martin added.

But all of this comes with a note of caution. Drummonds, or any other cereal seed merchant, is not allowed to blend cereal varieties.

“But given the increasing pressure on cereal growers to produce grain with a reduced reliance on agrochemicals, the option of blending varieties within the same field is well worth looking at for the future,” Martin said.

“One possible downside will be the differing maturity dates of the various varieties. But time will tell how this works out. Drummonds is committed to developing the current trials over the next couple of years.”

Barley crops

Cereal growers will be aware of the fact that Barley Yellow Dwarf Virus (BYDV) was an issue for both winter and spring crops during the 2021/2022 season.

Significantly, Drummonds is currently trialling a new 2-row winter barley variety – yet to be named – with, potentially, a significant tolerance to BYDV.

“Disease tolerance should not be confused with disease resistance,” stressed Drummonds agronomist Frank Glynn.

“The fact that a variety is tolerant to BYDV does not means that it is entirely unaffected by it.

“We already have a BYDV tolerant 6-row variety in the shape of Joyau.

“Confirmation that a 2-row variety is also available would represent a significant boost for Irish barley growers. But it will take a number of years of ongoing trials to get us to that stage.”

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