Barley might not be the ‘sexiest’ grain at the moment, with it and oats being pushed aside by the more fashionable winter cropping alternatives.
Chickpea and lentil plantings have joined canola in pushing barley and oats hectares lower.
Nevertheless, barley can and does have a place in many cropping rotations, at least for the chance of breaking disease cycle, if not for the commensurate returns from the high yielding varieties.
In the Australian Winter Crop Update issued in May by Rabobank, the authors report barley and oats are the collateral of low cereal prices with areas expected to drop by around seven per cent and 11 per cent respectively for the 2017/18 season.
Yet, according to the industry marketing specialists, there are opportunities for barley, especially for stock feed.
Despite low wheat prices, and the attraction to plant more profitable crops, Rabobank report many growers will continue with their wheat rotations as planned, instead substituting barley and oats to pursue more profitable crops.
It was noted in the report, significant increases in area sown to chickpeas and canola will make up for reduced areas of barley and oats sown.
John Webster, director Quirindi Grain and Produce, Quirindi said the indicative price for barley at $210 on farm plus GST is firming on scarcity of wheat, but there is a lot of barley grain stored on-farm waiting for higher price increases before being offered for sale.
“Farmers are waiting for rain on the Liverpool Plains, before committing to further sowing, but barley is an option, especially with the higher yielding varieties,” Mr Webster said.
“There is not a lot of price difference between malting and feed barley, and many farmers prefer to grow feed barley for increased yield and there is a steady demand from feedlots.”
Mr Webster said current prices would encourage some farmers to include barley in their program.
Duncan Whittle, Igrain, Orange, said “prices are not exceptional at the moment”, but they have risen $35 to $50 since harvest.
“There is a premium for stock feed and our recent sale of $205 on-farm at Tooraweenah indicates current values,” he said.
“Prices are being driven by the domestic situation, and barley will continue to be sought for stock feed.”
Damian Moloney, general manager Croker Grain, Marrar reports strong export demand from China has lifted prices $30 since harvest.
“I don’t expect there will be a lot of grain carried forward from this season due to export demand and also because a lot will be fed to sheep,’ Mr Moloney said.
Barley supporting livestock in rotation
Growing 55ha of barley within a winter cropping program covering 2225ha might not seem such a big deal: but for Rob Johnson, “Clavering”, Grenfell, who operates the business in a family partnership it fits nicely as a drought management tool.
They also lease country, and running 1500 Merino ewes and 1800 cross-bred ewes complimenting their cropping program means the barley is stored for stock feed depending upon the season.
“We also opportunity feed our cross-bred lambs to finish them, and barley is a very good grain for that purpose,” Mr Johnson said.
“But we can and will sell surplus grain.”
Indeed, Mr Johnson has recently sold a truck load on a rising market.
“We did sell a fair bit last season and got over $200/tn,” he said.
“Barley is also a god fit with our cropping … we can change our cereal rotation to reduce the chance of diseases, and with the higher yielding varieties, the return spreads our cash flow.”
Depending on soil types, the barley is grown alongside wheat, lupins, faba beans, canola and oats in a well thought out rotation.
Mr Johnson noted the opportunity of good returns with barley yielding four and half tonnes it is as good as, if not better than wheat at three and half tonnes.
The variety Binalong was sown mid-May into ‘reasonable’ soil moisture at the rate of 65kg/ha along with 40kg Urea and 80kg MAP.