Curtain falls on challenging crop growing season

With the cutting of our Spring Barley variety trial plots earlier this week, we’ve decided to take a look back at what has been one of the most challenging spring crop growing seasons in recent years.

Our trials were sown on March 26 into a reasonable seed bed and with good soil moisture – but that’s pretty much where the good news halted for a month or two.

The Northumberland region, much like the rest of the UK, was affected by a serious drought throughout April and May. In the area around Beal Farm, where our trials site is located, there was just 10mm-15mm of rain throughout those two months, compared to a usual average of somewhere between 60mm-100mm.

The trials site on May 27 – two months after being sown and after a prolonged drought.

As a result, a minority of the crops were slow to germinate, while some were affected by manganese deficiency due to being unable to uptake their nutrients – a common issue among many crops this year due to the lack of rainfall.

But, as we moved from May into June, we finally got the rainfall that was so desperately needed. A total of 40mm fell in the first few weeks of June – more than double that of April and May combined – and that rainfall was undoubtedly the saviour of these crops.

The trials site on June 9 after some much-needed rain.

Due to stress, they had also raced through the growth stages in a bid to survive before they ran out of moisture – and this was evident in the stress spotting that was visible on some of the leaves. The crops were also thin and missing a tiller or two, but there was enough moisture in the roots from the rainfall in order to get grain fill.

A final awn spray was put on to help prevent against ramularia, which is one of the most yield robbing diseases in spring barley, and it was pretty much full steam ahead from there, with improved weather conditions seeing the crops progress well with good grain fill.

Highlighting the uneven emergence of the crop. Photograph taken on August 12.

Towards the end of July and into August, it became evident that the drought and the failure of some of the seeds to germinate when they should’ve in the spring had resulted in some uneven emergence and maturity across all of the varieties. During our visit to the trials site in mid-August, while some of the crops were rock hard and could’ve been harvested that day, others were still green, meaning harvest had to wait that bit longer.

It wasn’t until September 8 that the field was finally harvested – almost three weeks later than last year – which was impacted not only by the uneven maturity in some of the crops, but a week of rather unwanted rainfall towards the end of August.

Harvest day on September 8.

So, it certainly hasn’t been the easiest of years – but the barley has been taken in now and, considering where we were at the end of May, we’re actually pretty happy with the yields and total nitrogens of the varieties, which have been analysed in our laboratory. [put some stats/results in here?]

But looking ahead as we always do, like most people – we’ll certainly be happy to see the back of 2020. Let’s hope the year 2021 is a lot less eventful…