Now that you have your barley seed in place you can start the fun part – fertility planning. As we know, soil types, climates, and farming practices are different from farm to farm and from region to region. For the sake of this blog post, we aren’t going to delve too deep into recommendations, but rather focus on the basics of barley fertility.
Fertility Planning for your malt barley crop is important, but it is exceptionally vital if you are new to growing barley. As in our last post about seed selection, we focus on our end goal first. Since any of our barley that isn’t produced for seed goes to our malting customers, we focus first on keeping protein levels low and then driving yield. We keep these two end goals top of mind as we go through the fertility planning process.
Pull those Soil Samples
Pulling a soil sample in each field will help you determine what micro and macronutrients are out there and how much. Sampling should be done in multiple areas of the field, especially if there are drainage areas or multiple soil types in one field. At Arnusch Farms we sample in the fall and try to do so every year, but at minimum, a test should be conducted every 3-4 years.
The soil pH level is an especially important result of a soil test for barley growers. Barley hates low-pH soils and requires a minimum pH of 6.3. Growers with more acidic soils can add lime to their fields. A pH level of 7.0 is ideal for nutrient availability.
Preseason Decision Making Is Key
Once we have our soil samples back, we begin analyzing the results to put together our fertilizer plan. Consultation with an agronomist or other trusted source is recommended. As an extra tool, we like to reference the Ag PhD. Fertilizer removal app which gives general guidelines for nutrient management. The app is also handy for playing with different yield goals depending on what situations you think you will run into for the growing season.
The trickiest part of our preseason fertilizer planning process is pairing our yield goal with the amount of water we project to have available. With sufficient soil moisture, Nitrogen boosts yields without increasing protein levels. However, if there is a lack of moisture the plant will use the Nitrogen to add protein to the grain. Nitrogen should be added on the front end of the growing season to prevent any potential issues with protein levels. Higher levels of Nitrogen can also affect kernel plumpness.
Special considerations for Phosphorus and Potassium should also be accounted for in the planning phase for preseason fertilizer. Sufficient phosphorus is essential for stand establishment especially in winter barley situations to reduce the risk of winter kill. Potassium deficiencies leave the plants susceptible to disease, drought, and frost. Diminished quality and yields are likely due to poor root growth and leaf development.
In-Season Tissue Sampling and Management
Pulling tissue samples in several parts of the field during the growing season can help diagnose problems early, so corrective action can be taken. This is also a great opportunity to learn how well your preseason plan worked and shore up any management flaws in the following seasons. Tissue samples should be collected from 25-35 plants within the same relative area each time they are sampled. Sampling from good and bad areas of the field separately can help diagnose issues. If an issue arises that warrants action; barley responds well to foliar applications of micronutrients in season.