Malt Barley Planting Prep
By Alex Torgesen / April 2019
Alex is a Barley Agronomist in Idaho Falls, ID. Alex has a bachelor’s degree in Biological Engineering with a minor in crop biotechnology from Utah State University and has worked for Anheuser-Busch since February 2016.
Proper seedbed preparation provides season-long benefits to a crop resulting in higher yields and better quality. Quicker germination allows the crop to get established before weeds appear and allows the crop to take advantage of a longer season. Uniform emergence helps make it easier to plan irrigation and chemical timings to keep the crop performing at its best. Fortunately, malt barley is fairly forgiving when conditions aren’t ideal, but here are some tips to help when you are preparing to plant.
Good seed to soil contact is the goal of soil preparation. Barley does best when it is planted into moisture in a firm seedbed. Doing so will result in quicker germination and a more uniform stand. Uniform tillage depth will help you plant at a consistent depth. An overworked soil can lead to crusting and loss of soil moisture. If you expect more than a 20 percent loss from crusting, consider breaking the crust up.
Another potential problem to consider is crop residue. If not handled correctly, it can cause your planter to place the seed at varying depths or even cause it to clog up. Ensure that you have broken up the residue to the point that your planter can handle or invest in equipment that will allow you to plant into more residue.
When to Plant
In general, barley does better the earlier it is planted. This will allow it to avoid many of the diseases and pests later in the season and allow it to take advantage of the cooler temperatures early in the season and moisture from the winter. Since barley is particularly sensitive to yield losses due to heat at flowering, planting earlier is one of the most effective ways to help your barley crop reach its full potential. The minimum soil temperature for barley to germinate is 40°F.
A couple of exceptions to this “earlier is better” rule are 1.) planting when the soil is too wet to allow proper seedbed preparation and 2.) planting in no-till operations where the soil can take longer to warm up because of the crop residue.
Recommended Planting Depth
Barley should be planted anywhere between 1 and 1 ½ inches deep. The goal here is to plant the seed where it will find moisture. The more uniform you keep your seeding depth throughout a field, the more uniform your stand will be, which will result in a healthier crop. It is important that you stop occasionally while planting to check that your seed is going in at the proper depth, because soil conditions can vary widely between fields and even within a field itself. Regardless of where the soil moisture is, avoid planting the seed any deeper than 2 ½ inches.
A seeding rate of around 1 million seeds per acre is recommended for malt barley. This could be lower than what is normally done in your area, but barley tillers well and can handle lower seeding rates. Seeding too heavy can result in barley that doesn’t tiller, which will result in weaker straw strength. It also will require more fertilizer and water, since you have more plants to take care of. All of this, along with the cost of the extra seed, can negatively affect your pocketbook.
To convert from pounds of seed to number of kernels, you need to know the kernel weight (often given in thousand kernel weight) and the germination rate of the seed (often close to 100 percent so this number is sometimes ignored). Simply multiply your desired number of seeds per acre by the number of seeds/lb and then the germination rate (if you decide to take this into account). Talk to your agronomist if you have any questions about calculating this number. It is important to note that the lbs/acre of seed can vary greatly between different varieties of malt barley and between years depending on the plumpness of the seed.
Larry D. Robertson, J. C. (2003). Idaho Spring Barley Production Guide . Moscow: University of Idaho Extension.