We've experienced a quite extraordinary start to the cropping year and as I look at news reports showing land under water I can only imagine the extent of the challenges being faced by some farmers. By now, in England, most would have hoped to finish drilling never mind not even started in some cases.
Understandably and economically getting a winter cereal crop is still the goal right up to February, depending on the variety, for those who can. However, for some that ship has already sailed and a new 'Plan B' will be the reality. For many, even those not so dramatically affected, some change of cropped area is underway with a shift towards spring crops inevitable. The question is, just how much and how to approach a farmed area that you'd planned to be say just 5% spring barley to one that now looks more likely to be nearer 50% spring barley?
An increased area of spring barley, in particular, brings a number of implications. For farmers, getting appropriate agronomic advice and finding spring barley marketing information now is essential and could help claw back some positives from what is undoubtedly a difficult situation.
Markets and premiums
Early advice is the important point here because we still have a number of marketing options, and seed availability today; but as the need to plant spring barley grows and therefore the likely crop at harvest '20 increases, so the marketing options available will shrink – as will seed availability. Premiums are available in some parts of the country and wherever you are there are pool options which will help manage risk and secure harvest movement of spring barley if that is important to you.
Harvest movement of spring barley
Harvest movement is important to many farmers and spring barley is quite different from winter wheat at harvest. There are myriad homes and markets for wheat at harvest making movement relatively straightforward, even on grain not contracted. However, quality spring barley has a much narrower number of homes (malting and distilling) and they typically do not want grain until autumn. Added to that, storing and maintaining quality of spring barley is different and generally more complicated than wheat. If harvest movement of your barley is important, then it's advisable to book it as soon as possible – or at least find out what the local market can offer you.
We are likely to see some growers who usually perhaps only grow a field or two of spring barley to help tackle grassweed problems who next year find themselves putting most of their land into spring barley. To grow barley well and to match the spec of a very specific end market requires a different skill set. I'm fortunate that I can draw on the advice of my agronomy colleagues and a network of trials data and experience. We have agronomists who specialise in growing spring barley on a large scale for huge end markets year in, year out. That knowledge and shared experience will be invaluable to many more of our grower customers this year.
Whatever your situation, the main point is to find out what your local options around spring cropping are, even if at the moment you are still hoping to drill a winter crop.
We know that there are still many unknowns and hopefully many will still manage to get winter crops in, but a conversation now about your potential spring 'Plan B' could help improve your outlook if Mother Nature makes some of 'Plan A' untenable come February.