I don’t believe in miracles, or in using exaggerated language to describe farming “disasters” or price “collapses” when altogether more moderate terms are what we actually mean.

So, when I finished off an article in July about my late-planted spring barley by saying, “It’ll be a miracle if it does a clear 2t per acre”, that is exactly what I meant.

Therefore, when it yielded 1.9t/acre at 16% moisture, I was almost forced to eat my words. In fact, if the weather-beaten heads that were lost on the ground had been salvaged, the story could have had a different ending.

Planted on 15 May into a less-than-ideal seedbed, this crop had the lowest possible yield potential. Nevertheless, a tiny smidgeon of pride pushed me into giving it every chance to save face, and the brutal honesty is that I couldn’t bear the thought of other cereal growers reading about the halfwit from Killinchy growing 1t per acre.

Different route

A very real option was to just plough in farmyard manure, sow the barley, spray for weeds and close the gate. Instead, I opted for a different route and decided to throw money at it in the hope of limiting damage to my delicate ego.

Seventy units per acre of nitrogen (N) and two generous fungicide sprays of Mobius (prothioconazole + trifloxystrobin) may have helped, because this field of Planet looked much better than expected all season.

However, it was a funny old year, and another of my predictions turned out to be wholly inaccurate. The combination of late planting, generous amounts of N and comprehensive fungicide use should have translated into delayed senescence, and I reckoned it wouldn’t ripen until late September. Instead, it was ready for glyphosate (below 30% moisture) on 23 August.

I favour barley being left three weeks to give the Roundup time to work properly, but the combination of decent weather and combine availability made me jump on 5 September. Given the type of ‘summer’ we have had, I thought it wiser to cut at 19% or above, and at least have something in the trailers to sell.

When I tipped the first load at the buyer’s yard, I thought his moisture meter must have been on the blink, because it read 15.5%.

The final yield was also a pleasant shock, although no one could describe the individual pickles as well-filled. It just wasn’t the right year for samples of fat, golden grain. And regarding the lost heads, I sometimes wonder if some mechanical genius couldn’t invent a combine header with some sort of hoovering device that might suck those stray heads up onto the floor of the table?

It really is frustrating to watch the reel doing its best to lift the crop, only for the knife to snag off the upside-down heads. I suppose it’ll make a bit of good feeding for various birds in the winter months.


Regarding finances, I can’t do too much counting yet, since I haven’t a clue what price I’ll be getting. And when the time comes to work out the sums, I have a few options.

I could count only vital inputs and set these against grain and straw (five 4x4 rounds per acre), which may give it a veneer of respectability.

Then I might add in hidden costs, such as hedge-cutting and liming, and if there aren’t any minuses in the equation, then I’ll add a charge for the manure spreading.

After that, I could pile on the rental figure, but let’s be honest here – if I tot up all true costs for a sub-2t crop of spring barley with a low straw yield, the whole thing is going to look utterly depressing. Maybe I’ll just not count up anything at all – sometimes it’s easier like that.

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