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Barley growers looking to maximize value of crop

Barley growers looking to maximize value of crop

Projections are calling for another increase in barley production this year in the upper Southeast. The continued demand for corn as a source for ethanol, plus continued high demand as livestock feed, is likely to pull the price of barley up. Despite the improvement in market value of barley, it still has to offset some price lag, compared to other grain crops. Plant breeders have made significant increases in developing barley varieties that overcome some of the past problems growers have had with lodging of the grain crop.

Projections are calling for another increase in barley production this year in the upper Southeast. To stay competitive with other grain and fiber crops, growers must find ways to maximize the value and reduce production costs of barley.

The continued demand for corn as a source for ethanol, plus continued high demand as livestock feed, is likely to pull the price of barley up. The new Osage Bio ethanol plant in Hopewell, Va., is basing barley prices on corn futures, so this is especially true for Virginia and Eastern Shore growers.

Despite the improvement in market value of barley, it still has to offset some price lag, compared to other grain crops. The anticipated high value of soybeans in 2011, and the documented performance of double-crop beans behind barley is also a plus.

Plant breeders have made significant increases in developing barley varieties that overcome some of the past problems growers have had with lodging of the grain crop.

Despite these advances, barley is still prone to lodge together and fall over during the production process. Finding new ways to prevent, or at least manage lodging is part of an ongoing research project at Virginia Tech University’s Eastern Virginia Agricultural Research and Extension Center in Warsaw, Va.

Researchers there are using plant growth regulators to reduce plant height and make it stiffer to reduce lodging.

Lodging is rated on a 0-9 scale, with 9 being the worst. They found with each incremental increase in lodging on the rating scale, they lost 3-4 bushels per acre. For example, a lodging scale of 3 versus 6 may mean 10 bushels per acre yield loss. Most of that loss is simply not being able to harvest the plant, but there are probably other issues involved, according to Virginia Tech Small Grain Specialist Wade Thomason.

“We have had Cerone plant growth regulator for several years and we are looking at a new one we hope to have on the market in 2011. It is a Syngenta product that has been used in Europe for several years and will likely be marketed, if it is labeled for use, as Palisade.”

Three rates of Cerone, 0.25 pint, 0.50 pint and 1.0 pint per acre were used and two rates of Palisade .09 and .11 pounds of active ingredient per acre were applied to two of the top producing hulled and hull-less barley lines in the Virginia Tech breeding program.

As of mid-May the results were visible. In Thoroughbred barley, untreated plots were 33 inches tall. Three Cerone applications each reduced height to 27 inches. The two Palisade applications reduced plant height to an average of 28 inches.

Shorter variety

On a shorter growing variety, untreated plots were 26 inches. Both plant growth regulators only reduced plant height about two inches. As expected, plant growth regulators had minimal effect on shorter growing varieties.

“So far we have seen no negative effects of either chemical at any of the rates we used. For Palisade, the application timing is at growth stage 30-33, or a winter-time application. This may give it more flexibility of application timing,” Thomason says.

“The chemistries are different, but they basically do the same thing. And, so far we have had no problems tank-mixing either material with nitrogen,” the Virginia Tech researcher adds.

A number of seed treatments are used to keep diseases of small grains, including barley, under control. In general, these treatments have been successful in disease management programs. In addition, most popular varieties have genetic resistance to most diseases.

Also in general, these products were developed for cereal crops growing in a significantly different climate than found in the mid-Atlantic states. So, Virginia Tech researchers recently took a look at two of the primary diseases and a different approach to managing them.

Powdery mildew and leaf rust are the primary diseases of barley in the upper Southeast. Keeping these yield-robbing pathogens under control is one key to top barley production.

Virginia Tech researchers, in an effort to get a better understanding of genetic resistance of two popular varieties of barley to leafspot and powdery mildew, tested a hulled (Thoroughbred) and a hull-less (Doyce) variety last year.

Doyce has the best leafspot resistance of any variety in the Virginia Tech program and excellent powdery mildew resistance. Thoroughbred doesn’t have nearly as good resistance, but is a high yielding barley variety.

Typically, neither disease is a big problem in the fall and winter, but become a problem as seed treatment fungicides begin to break down in the spring.

In the Virginia Tech tests, at the Eastern Virginia Agricultural Research and Extension Center, Baytan, a flowable fungicide commonly used to manage cotton diseases, was applied to barley.

In plots with no seed treatment, the fungicide was applied after the plots were rated at 6 and 7 (9.0 being the worst rate of infection). After the fungicide application, the same plots were rated at 0 and 1.

 “We know the fungicide will work. How well it will fit for our growers, we don’t know yet,” says Thomason.

Killing weeds that impact the yield of barley and other small grains in the upper Southeast is relatively easy, compared to summer crops. However, managing weeds economically from fall planting until late spring harvest can be a challenge.

Challenge has become greater

The challenge has become even greater since 2009, when Virginia Tech Weed Scientist Scot Hagood documented four weed species with resistance to Harmony, one of the standard herbicide treatments for troublesome weeds in small grains.                                               

Hagood  identified four fields from Virginia that had common chickweed that was resistant to Group 2 herbicides (this includes Harmony, Harmony Extra, Finesse, and others).                                                

University of Delaware Weed Scientist Mark VanGesse  says, “We have had reports of fields on Delmarva with chickweed populations not controlled with Finesse or Harmony Extra. VanGesse adds that growers with poor chickweed control and resistance to these popular weeds have few options.

Starane Ultra (from Dow AgroSciences) is labeled for wheat and barley and has been used in the western U.S. for control of Group 2 resistant weeds. However, it will not control other commonly occurring barley weed species such as wild garlic.             

Starane Ultra can be tank-mixed with Harmony Extra to broaden the spectrum of control. Starane Utra by itself does not need an adjuvant and can be applied in nitrogen.

The best weed management for barley is a good, rapidly growing, disease-free stand. To give barley the best opportunity to get up and growing quickly, most growers (no-till production) use a burndown spray of glyphosate or a similar herbicide.

Apply glyphosate after planting and before emergence of the small grain. Use a minimum of 10 gallons per acre of diluted spray. As the density of the crop residue increases, the spray gallonage should increase to ensure complete coverage and kill. Use the higher rate if existing vegetation is dense, cool temperatures exist, and/or drought conditions are prevalent.

If weeds come up after the barley crop is planted, growers can use a very carefully managed application of 2,4-D. Spray, 2,4-D when grain is 4- 8 inches high or after tillering, but before jointing. Spraying small grain too early or after jointing can result in reduced yields and uneven ripening. Higher rates of 2,4-D increase the risk of grain injury.

“Why would we want higher protein barley? We may to do that because much of Virginia’s barley crop will be used for ethanol and barley meal — a byproduct of the ethanol production process. There is a premium price and higher demand for high protein barley,” Virginia Tech Small Grains Specialist Wade Thomason explains.

“We found a few years back that we could increase the protein content of red wheat by adding nitrogen, so we instituted a test to determine whether we could do the same thing with barley,” Thomason adds.

In the Virginia Tech test they applied 30 pounds of nitrogen as urea dissolved in water, at a total volume of 37-38 gallons of water per acre. The research team will evaluate the factors involved in adding more nitrogen, including the impact on the environment, and make an assessment as to whether adding extra nitrogen to improve protein is an economically feasible thing to do.

Though the more highly publicized goal of Osage Bio’s new plant in Hopewell, Va., is to convert barley into ethanol, a big part of the economic success of the new plant will be production of high quality barley meal for livestock feed.

Hence, the interest in possibly increasing the protein content of barley. The cost of nitrogen and the negative public image of adding more nitrogen to the environment at a time when mid-Atlantic growers are trying to document their role in cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay are concerns.

Despite the big push to produce more barley, the key to increasing production is to make it more profitable for farmers. Though progress has been slow, new varieties, new production practices and continued competitive pricing will likely make barley a part of many Virginia-Maryland-Delaware farms this fall and winter.

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