It can be a challenge to grow malt barley consistently. If it’s not already a part of your rotation, you might think it’s not worth the effort. But you would be missing out on the profits you receive when you’re able to grow malt grade barley year after year.
In order to increase the odds of growing malt quality barley, and lots of it, start by creating a strategy that’s specific to your farm. Whether you’re looking to enhance your current malt production, introduce it for the first time, or get it back into your rotation, you need to begin with a solid plan.
Here are some successful strategies used by farmers who are consistently producing malt quality barley:
Get your barley off to a great start. Pay particular attention to how and when you seed your barley. Early seeding increases the chance of both getting malt and growing more bushels per acre.
Next, focus on seeding rate and variety selection. Target a plant population of 25 plants/sq.ft. using quality seed paired with an effective seed treatment.
Choose a variety suited for your area. If you’re unsure which varieties do best in your area, ask your Cargill agronomist or a neighbour that grows big malt crops on a regular basis. Keep in mind that applying more nitrogen (N) to an early seeded crop tends to encourage the plant to increase yield, rather than producing protein as it does in later growth stages. If those early growth stages are strong and vigorous, you’ll be setting the stage for high yield potential.
Seeding barley on pulse stubble is a great option. You can obtain a yield bump without a significant impact on protein. Seeding on canola stubble also works well.
Avoid seeding barley on barley, as this increases the risk of early season disease. If your goal is to give the crop an early advantage, then avoiding disease issues like root rot and early season leaf infections will be critical.
The golden mix
Fertilizing for malt barley is all about finding the golden mix - nutrients, seeding date and seeding rate in the early stages, with weed and disease protection later on. Match your yield goals with this golden mix to prepare your year accordingly.
When creating a fertilizer program, start with a soil test [link to soil testing blog] so you can know what you’re working with. Phosphorus (P) applied near the seed can help pop barley out of the ground and gets it off to a good start. Crops will also respond better to N applications when P is readily available.
Adequate P can increase crop maturity by 3 to 6 days. This can be a valuable advantage, since an early harvest may help avoid weather issues that knock the grade down from malt to feed.
If your soil test results show low levels of potash (K), include K in your fertility program to increase straw strength and provide disease protection.
N rates are a balancing act. Too much N means higher protein, something the maltsters don’t like, but too little can hurt your yield. Match N rates closely with yield goals while being realistic about how they impact other factors in the golden mix. The better your malt barley protection plan is the more comfortable you can be with a higher N rate.
Drought or poor harvest conditions can ruin your best attempts at growing malt barley. Still, if you treat your malt barley right at the start of the growing season you’re more likely to realize the desired outcome at harvest. A focused plan helps negate the impacts of difficult weather.
Despite the challenge of growing consistent malt barley, don’t give up. There’s a range of options to sell your barley domestically or for export, so check in with your Cargill team to see if your crop qualifies. Need some in-season help? Talk to a Cargill Agronomist in your area to get local advice on what works, in your quest to grow profitable malt quality barley crops on a regular basis.