Har­vest begins with bar­ley, or win­ter bar­ley, to be precise

Barley – the cere­al grain with long awns – is the ear­li­est of the types of grain to be cul­ti­vat­ed. Sum­mer bar­ley is used in brew­ing, while win­ter bar­ley is pre­dom­i­nant­ly used for ani­mal feed. Com­pared to sum­mer bar­ley, win­ter bar­ley can achieve high­er yields and has a high­er pro­tein and vit­a­min con­tent. The bar­ley grains grow with husks. This ensures a high per­cent­age of cel­lu­lose (≈ 8–15%). The bar­ley grains con­sist of car­bo­hy­drates, most­ly starch (60–70%), pro­teins (11%), fibre (10%), fat (2%) and min­er­als (2%). In addi­tion to the orig­i­nal bar­ley, there are now some vari­eties of naked bar­ley, in which the grains are not so close­ly attached to the husks. This sim­pli­fies the har­vest and offers a low­er risk of dam­ag­ing the germ buds.

Due to breed­ing suc­cess­es, bar­ley yields are sim­i­lar to wheat yields, par­tic­u­lar­ly in unex­cep­tion­al loca­tions. How­ev­er, due to the tem­per­a­ture fluc­tu­a­tions, includ­ing frosts, in the spring it seems like­ly there will be yield loss­es this year. Frost dam­age has already become appar­ent in parts of Bavaria, Baden-Würt­tem­berg and Thuringia. One of the con­se­quences is unripe crops with ears that have not prop­er­ly filled out. In some cas­es, only indi­vid­ual ears are affect­ed, but it may lead to loss­es of up to 90%. It has not been pos­si­ble to dis­tin­guish between dif­fer­ent vari­eties as both 2‑row and mul­ti-row vari­eties are affect­ed. The rea­son for such wide­spread dam­age was the devel­op­ment stage of the bar­ley crop dur­ing the frosts. In some of the affect­ed areas, the bar­ley has already been har­vest­ed as a whole plant silage (WPS). How­ev­er, this deci­sion must be weighed up and made accord­ing to indi­vid­ual farm-relat­ed fac­tors: use of the bar­ley as feed or bar­ley straw on the farm, inte­gra­tion of the catch crop in the rota­tion, water avail­abil­i­ty or sub­sidy restrictions.


Image by Hans Braxmeier on Pixabay

Win­ter bar­ley: Cul­ti­va­tion, har­vest and yields

Bar­ley is gen­er­al­ly con­sid­ered to be a rather unde­mand­ing plant in crop pro­duc­tion that grows in var­i­ous soils and tol­er­ates even harsh weath­er con­di­tions. Nev­er­the­less, some spe­cial fea­tures of cul­ti­va­tion should be tak­en into account in the case of bar­ley, and espe­cial­ly win­ter barley:

Loca­tion: Over­all, bar­ley does not make high demands on the soil and thrives on ground with a soil qual­i­ty of >30. Bar­ley does not have a very strong root sys­tem, so it reacts sen­si­tive­ly to unfavourable soil con­di­tions such as soil com­paction. On the oth­er hand, it likes deep, well-moist­ened, slight­ly acidic to neu­tral (pH 6.0–7.0) soils that dry quick­ly and absorb warmth in the spring. Good water avail­abil­i­ty in the till­ing stage is impor­tant for bar­ley. The win­ter har­di­ness of bar­ley is less pro­nounced. Loca­tions with fre­quent frosts tend to be unsuit­able as a result.

Till­ing: Win­ter bar­ley requires well-pre­pared soil for sow­ing. The seed bed should be fine and dense to avoid uneven emer­gence and ensure that the seed grains can receive suf­fi­cient mois­ture for ger­mi­na­tion. In addi­tion, it is advan­ta­geous for the soil to be well loosened.

Crop rota­tion: Bar­ley is not very self-tol­er­ant, so that breaks in cul­ti­va­tion of one to two years are rec­om­mend­ed. Suit­able pre­vi­ous crops are pota­toes, as well as legumes and maize for win­ter barley.

Sow­ing: In the case of win­ter bar­ley, sow­ing is car­ried out in ear­ly autumn, from late August until the end of Sep­tem­ber, so that the for­ma­tion of sec­ondary shoots (tillers) is com­plet­ed before win­ter. Ide­al­ly, an accu­mu­lat­ed tem­per­a­ture of 800°C should not be exceed­ed between sow­ing and the win­ter sol­stice. For this rea­son, drilling should not be car­ried out too ear­ly at loca­tions with warmer autumns and milder win­ters. In order to devel­op before win­ter, win­ter bar­ley requires 50–55 days to form well-stocked plants with four to six tillers. Win­ter bar­ley is well able to tol­er­ate tem­per­a­tures as low as ‑15°C dur­ing the win­ter months. The seed den­si­ty is 400 ger­minable grains/m2 for 2‑row vari­eties, or 350 ger­minable grains/m2 for 6‑row vari­eties. The seed den­si­ty should be select­ed so as to achieve an opti­mal ear den­si­ty of 500–600 ears/m2 for mul­ti-row and 700–800 ears/m2 for 2‑row win­ter bar­ley. The seed depth should be 2–4 cm at a row spac­ing of 8–16 cm. When sow­ing, bar­ley is husked and has a thou­sand-grain weight of about 40–50 g. The ger­mi­na­tion capac­i­ty is more than 90%. Rolling the seed is rec­om­mend­ed to improve the con­tact of seed with the soil, as this pro­motes ger­mi­na­tion and field emergence.

Fer­til­i­sa­tion: Since bar­ley does not have a strong root sys­tem, its nutri­ent acqui­si­tion capac­i­ty is not very pro­nounced. There­fore, a good nutri­ent sup­ply is impor­tant, so a basic fer­til­i­sa­tion with phos­pho­rus and potas­si­um should be car­ried out before sow­ing, since larg­er quan­ti­ties of nutri­ents are need­ed in the autumn and potas­si­um improves the win­ter har­di­ness. In the autumn, a fer­til­i­sa­tion of approx­i­mate­ly 30 kg N/ha is necessary.

Plant pro­tec­tion: With bar­ley, mechan­i­cal weed con­trol is car­ried out by har­row­ing; after sow­ing and before emer­gence through so-called blind har­row­ing. Plant loss­es from the 3–4‑leaf stage are bal­anced out by increased tiller­ing, with a 10% high­er sow­ing den­si­ty. In addi­tion, the choice of vari­ety can influ­ence the plant pro­tec­tion mea­sures. For exam­ple, hybrid bar­ley vari­eties can reduce the risk of crops being affect­ed by localised, soil-relat­ed fun­gal dis­eases, such as Fusar­i­um. In addi­tion, bar­ley can sup­press unde­sir­able weeds such as black grass. The green bar­ley leaf absorbs the red light which is nec­es­sary for the ger­mi­na­tion of black grass, lead­ing to suppression.

Har­vest: The bar­ley is har­vest­ed when it is ful­ly or over­ripe. Dur­ing com­bin­ing, atten­tion must be paid to the weight (wind adjust­ment) and the acti­va­tion of the de-awner. Bar­ley is then stored with its husks on.

Yields: The yields of win­ter bar­ley are between 50–90 dt/ha.

Spe­cial fea­tures of win­ter bar­ley: Root sys­tem and dormancy 

Win­ter bar­ley is the first crop to pro­duce spikelets in Decem­ber (dou­ble ring stage). Before this, a branched and deep-reach­ing root sys­tem has devel­oped. The tips of the roots syn­the­sise cytoki­nine, which sup­ports tiller­ing and ensures well-devel­oped spikelets. Through the ear­ly root for­ma­tion, soil drainage and ven­ti­la­tion as well as the entire soil struc­ture are improved with good cap­il­lar­i­ty. This makes it eas­i­er for the soil to retain water and nutri­ents in the fine cap­il­lar­ies, and excess water can also drain away faster. How­ev­er, due to a pro­nounced sec­ondary dor­man­cy, bar­ley must also absorb plen­ty of water. A bar­ley grain needs 50–60% of its own weight in water in order to ger­mi­nate. Water absorp­tion is sig­nif­i­cant­ly low­er in the case of rye and wheat. If bar­ley does not get enough water, ger­mi­na­tion is sus­pend­ed. In addi­tion, high­er soil tem­per­a­tures lead to sec­ondary dor­man­cy. This lasts until suf­fi­cient mois­ture is present at low­er tem­per­a­tures. It can there­fore hap­pen that win­ter bar­ley grows in the sec­ond or third year after cultivation.

Win­ter bar­ley with 365FarmNet

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