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Winter Malting Barley Bulletin – Feb 2020

To All Growers of Winter Malting Barley

As we slowly recover from the damage wreaked by Storms Dennis and Ciara, soils across the country are at or above field capacity and the prospects of an early spring diminish by the day. Forward forecasts look to herald some drier weather beyond the first week of March, we will believe it when we see it! We have now endured nigh on 6 months of continuous rain with only the occasional let up, in what has to be a completely unprecedented autumn and winter, the impacts of which we will only fully discover over time.

Growers have snatched every opportunity to sow winter crops in the brief, dry interludes in an effort to use up seed, keep rotations intact, respond to the forward wheat price and to try and avoid the size of barley crop that is being threatened. The weather over the next few weeks will be critical in terms of how winter crops grow out of the winter and just when it stops raining, what gets sown with what, fascinating times! Last week’s AHDB survey made for some interesting reading, but needs to be taken with a ‘pinch of salt’ for now until the weather normalises, if it ever will.

Winter Barley

Across the country we think around 80% of the winter malting barley crop has been sown. A fair bit went in before the start of the monsoon season, prior to 22nd September and a fair bit more since at varying times. There is no doubt there could be some serious issues with compacted and waterlogged headlands, slow and late establishment of crops, slugs and of course general water logging. At least the mild weather has avoided any frost lift and in fact crops have been establishing themselves and growing reasonably well during the milder spells. Apologies if we go on to state the obvious in this bulletin, but, like you, we are keen that you manage your crops in order to maximise yield and achieve quality specifications.

Crop Nutrition

It surely cannot be too long before we see some drier and warmer weather, which in turn will get winter crops moving. Nitrogen application will therefore be key in feeding the crop as it gets going and worth bearing in mind that in theory we will only have 5 weeks from this week to get all applied nitrogen on to potential malting barley crops. The first soil mineral nitrogen test results that have come back indicate some low residual levels (this comes as no surprise).

As to timings we suggest that you split your total dose in two and go with a 50:50 approach. If the wet weather conditions continue and we head into March before you can travel, then go to a 60:40 regime. We still suggest that ideally all nitrogen should be applied prior to the end of the 3rd week in March. If this is not possible then by the end of March at the latest.

The total amount will be down to plant numbers, crop condition, soil type, back cropping etc. and you are in the best place to make the final decision on what you apply, we would hold with the following:

Maris Otter – max 115-125kg/ha
Craft/Flagon – max 140-150 kg/ha

These figures are somewhat mandatory and you will know what best to do with crops given all the issues they are facing, the aim is to hit the specs at harvest. Also worth bearing in mind that we had some very high grain nitrogens last year caused by the extended dry spell in April & through May, would you bet against a dry spell going forward from here?

Worth noting that anyone who decided to give crops ‘early’ N to get them moving a few weeks ago can pretty well discount what was put on as the deluges left by Dennis and Ciara over the last few weeks have ensured that any applied N is highly likely not be utilised by your crops. Growth could be fairly explosive subject to weather conditions, so it is important that crops have nutrition when they start growing, they will not use it prior to that.

Worth also bearing in mind that sulphur is also prone to losses in such wet conditions so will need applying to crops. Other key nutrients are Manganese, Copper, Zinc and Magnesium. Really important that your crop gets the Full Monty this year as poor root development and backward crops will ensure they need all the help you can give them.


There are some good products out there which will help your crops to tiller, please speak to your agronomist re timings and products as these will be a useful aid in encouraging plants to tiller out, especially late drilled ones.

Tank Mixes

Please be very careful when applying herbicides and fungicides to your winter malting barley crops especially on Maris Otter, it does not like and does not need a headache. So care is needed in what you mix together and the conditions in which it is applied please.

We will be out and about to have a look at crops as the spring kicks in, we are aware that you will have a potentially very busy few weeks but we are keen to gauge how crops look and feed information back to maltsters and brewers.

If you have any queries please do get in touch with your usual Robin Appel Ltd contact or here at the office at Waltham Chase on 01489 896388 or