Surviving the barley disaster
Farmers fortunate to not put eggs in one basket
FARMERS and agronomists are scrambling to determine the cause of a major decline in barley crop in the Monto region this harvest.
Currently, the most likely culprit for the breakdown is suspected to be an onset of net blotch disease which took root during the early winter months when the crop was planted.
Farmer Ron Talbot, who planted no pulse or grains besides barley this year, saw unexpected devastation in his crop.
“We sprayed for net blotch right after we first noticed it and it looked like we got control of it,” Mr Talbot said.
“To look at you would have thought it would have gone at least two ton to the acre, but there were only two or three seeds in the head.”
The crop was planted in early June, with the expectation it would pass through a fairly dry winter.
Mr Talbot was surprised by the results, and said if he hadn’t been holding cattle at a time where cattle sale prices are doing well, the situation could have had more serious financial consequences.
“I was expecting nearly double the tonnage and last year’s prices would have made a heck of a lot,” he said.
“My son did the spraying, but the chemical to spray was very dear. We had aphids as well so we had to spray a combination.
“It cost a couple of thousand for the chemicals to spray a hundred acres.”
As it stands, it will be difficult for him to hire help around the farm.
Mr Talbot has difficulty walking unassisted due to a back operation, necessitating help for strenuous farm works such as planting and harvesting.
Effect on soil
In a good season, barley should return about two tons to the acre.
This year the crop yielded well below average with some producers under one ton to the acre.
Peter Sharp of the Monto Grain Cooperative said the grain itself was not affected and was of good quality.
“The problem is a lot of the plants produced a good head, but there were hardly any seeds.” Mr Sharp said.
Some farmers were able to mitigate the effects of the disease by planting different varieties of barley.
Mr Talbot found that the yield for Shepherd barley was much better than Oxford barley, producing more seeds.
Unfortunately, this year he planted overwhelmingly more Oxford barley due to it getting good yields the previous season.
“It’s only about six acres of Shepherd and nearly 90 acres of Oxford,” Mr Talbot said.
Local experts are recommending farmers plant different crop in disease-effected paddocks to give it time to dissipate.
Agronomist Kendall Muller said the disease developed in moist-warm conditions.
“We didn’t get the cold frost this year to break the disease cycle, it was a very mild winter,” Mr Muller said.
Mr Muller said the lesson to be learned was to avoid planting barley on barley.
We sprayed for net blotch right after we first noticed it and it looked like we got a control of it — Ron Talbot
Farmer Ron Talbot, with dog Rusty, was spared the worst of the barley hit thanks to cattle.
Irrigation line splits Shepherd barley on the left and Oxford on the right.
The farm on Abercorn Rd will rely on cattle sales to survive the barley loss.