Yield gains from early-sown barley

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A four-year study conducted in the New South Wales central-west region from 2009 to 2012 showed that barley sown from late April to early May yielded consistently higher than barley sown at the traditional mid-May to mid-June sowing. 

Key points

  • In a four-year central-west New South Wales time-of-sowing research project, sowing earlier yielded considerably higher than mid or late sowing
  • Yield loss from leading varieties was, on average, 0.24 tonnes per hectare per week of delay in anthesis beyond late August
  • Ensure that only varieties suitable for early sowing are used
  • There is a potential increased disease risk

Averaged across the four seasons, yield declined at a rate of about five per cent or 0.24 tonnes per hectare for each week that flowering was delayed beyond the flowering date of Hindmarsh (about 23 August) in the early-sowing treatment.

More than 30 mainstream and experimental barley varieties with a range of maturities, from slow winter types to quick maturity, were included in the time-of-sowing research, which was undertaken at the Trangie Agricultural Research Centre. 

The GRDC funded the research under a variety-specific agronomy package (VSAP) project.

Three similar sowing dates were tested in all seasons: early (late April/early May), main (mid-May) and late (early to mid-June).

Soil type at the research site was a typical self-mulching deep clay with plant-available water capacity of 190 millimetres.

A paddock with a variety of research crops

Research trials at the Trangie Agricultural Research Centre compared five different sowing times for barley, including late April, early May, mid-May, late May and early June.

PHOTO: Bob Freebairn

Trangie’s average annual rainfall is 494mm with moderate summer dominance. NSW Department of Primary Industries agronomist Rohan Brill, together with technical officers Jayne Jenkins and Robert Pither, did the research.

In western NSW environments such as Trangie, barley has traditionally been sown from mid to late May into June. This has partly been due to the higher priority given to perceived-higher-value crops such as wheat, chickpeas and canola and a general perception that barley should be sown relatively late.

From the trials, the average yield across all varieties and seasons were: 4.44t/ha for early-sown barley, 4.23t/ha for main-season sowing and 3.85t/ha for late sowing. The average difference between early and late sowing per season was 0.59t/ha – which, based on current markets would be about $148/ha, or $59,000, for a 400ha crop.

Reduced risk

Two men in a paddock with a crop

Rohan Brill, leader of a four-year research project in New South Wales that showed early-sowing barley provided significant yield gains compared with traditional sowing times.

PHOTO: Bob Freebairn

Mr Brill suggests that risk from earlier sowing is reduced by choosing varieties with particular agronomic suitability to the region. However, he notes that early sowing of fast-developing varieties such as Hindmarsh, which resulted in anthesis occurring in mid to late August most seasons, did not suffer frost damage in any trial. Separate research in Western Australia has shown that barley has a greater frost tolerance (up to 2ºC) than wheat at flowering.

Eight widely grown varieties were sown in all trials. Fast-developing varieties (such as Hindmarsh, Buloke, Schooner) sown early were the highest-yielding group in the relatively dry years of 2009 and 2012, but they were the lowest-yielding group in the high-yielding year of 2011.

Early sowing these fast varieties made them significantly higher yielding than later sowings in the drier years of 2009 and 2012; but they produced similar yields to the later sowings in the higher-yielding years of 2010 and 2011.

Medium-maturity varieties (Commander, Bass, Oxford) sown early were relatively high yielding in all trials. Medium-maturity varieties sown in mid-May ranged from being high yielding in good rainfall years (2010 and 2011) but were lower yielding in lower-rainfall years (2009 and 2012). Medium-maturity varieties sown late were consistently low yielding.

Slow-maturing varieties (Urambie, Gairdner) were high yielding when sown early in all seasons but generally suffered significant yield loss if sowing was delayed beyond early May.

Within each maturity group there were significant variety differences. For the slow-maturity group, Urambie was high yielding in all early-sown trials. For the medium-maturity group, Commander had a lower yield than most other medium-maturity types in the dry year of 2009 but produced good yields in all other seasons.

Averaged across the four years and of the eight varieties sown in each trial, Hindmarsh yielded the highest at each sowing time.

However, Mr Brill notes that growers need to regularly check the disease status of varieties, as these change and will often have an impact on variety choice and management.

He notes there is possibly an added disease risk from leaf diseases when sowing early, but this can be mitigated by variety choice, careful monitoring and, if necessary, timely fungicide strategies.

For example, it is now important to take into account when growing Hindmarsh (and La Trobe) barley, especially in many central and southern higher-rainfall areas, that there have been developments in the scald pathogen that have made these varieties susceptible to scald. Previously they were classified as resistant to the common scald pathotype. Scald can be a major yield loss threat, especially if growing barley on barley.

More information:

Rohan Brill
rohan.brill@dpi.nsw.gov.au

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GRDC Project Code DAN00129

Region South, North