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Planning to Grow Malt Barley: Walking Through the 2018 Crop Planning Guide

By Mitchell Japp, Provincial Specialist, Cereal Crops

2018 Crop Planning Guide

January 2018

A new year has arrived, the Crop Production Show is underway and new publications from Saskatchewan Agriculture are available, including

insect maps, Varieties of Grain Crops and the 2018 Crop Planning Guide (CPG).

Producers who have followed the CPG over the years may have noticed some changes in 2017. Many of these changes follow through into 2018, so let’s walk through an example. Please remember, the CPG is only a guide to help producers plan using their own numbers. The numbers provided do not represent average costs; markets fluctuate for crop and input prices. The CPG offers a snapshot-in-time of no farm in particular.

Barley offers a few points of interest, so let’s use barley as a model crop. Before we get too far, let’s lay out the assumptions. Let’s assume that:

  • We are in the Dark Brown soil zone (most barley production in Saskatchewan is in the Dark Brown and Black soil zones);
  • Malt quality is achievable on this farm (if malt quality is regularly achieved, select a variety that is likely to be selected for malt; otherwise a feed variety will likely offer higher yields);
  • We are planning a crop and will adjust for best management needs as the crop develops; and,
  • The assumptions used in the CPG are valid for this farm.

The CPG uses the five-year average yields, including crop loss claims, from Saskatchewan Crop Insurance Corporation (SCIC) and adds 20 per cent. We recognize that the variability in a soil zone is considerable, but expect that improvements in management and genetics will lead to higher yields. Many farms may plan for higher yields than those used in the CPG. For example, the top 20 per cent of SCIC barley yields (2012 to 2016) were 76 bu/ac, considerably higher than the yields in the CPG for either malt or feed barley.

Malt barley
The 2018 CPG malt barley yields are more than six bu/ac higher than 2017. The current five-year average now includes four of the top five barley yields in the province’s history, as a result of ideal growing conditions. Consequently, heading into a growing season where soil moisture reserves are low in many areas, planning for 2018 may lead to more conservative yield goals than those in the 2018 CPG. Individual farm planning may include approaches that account for normal moisture as well as reduced moisture conditions, then adjusting based on moisture at seeding time.

Seeding rates are based on the historical recommended range for plant establishment of 20 to 25 plants per square foot, using 22 plants per square foot for the Dark Brown soil zone, and assumes a seed weight of 45 mg and 85 per cent germination. There may be benefits to using higher seeding rates.

Fertility should always be based on a soil test analysis for that field. However, we do not have access to aggregate soil test data to use for the CPG, so the assumption is based on replacing the amount removed in the grain outlined by the Fertilizer Canada relative to the yield expected for the crop. Depending on the soil nutrient supply and growing season conditions, these rates may not be sufficient.

Herbicide treatments are selected based on the concept of herbicide layering. Herbicide layering is recommended for preventing the development of and/or managing existing herbicide resistant weed populations. For malt barley in the Dark Brown soil zone, the assumptions include a pre-harvest glyphosate application to the previous crop (never directly on the malt barley) to manage perennial weeds. Pre-harvest glyphosate or a post-harvest herbicide application made in one year will benefit the following crop, so the cost of it is allocated to the following crop, or, in this case, the malt barley.

Prior to planting malt barley, either in the prior fall or in the spring, a soil residual herbicide is planned for control of wild oats. A pre-seed burnoff is planned with glyphosate and second active ingredient to aid in control and to prevent or manage glyphosate resistance. In-crop herbicides are selected for both grassy and broadleaf weed control. Desiccants and pre-harvest weed control in malt barley are not recommended.

While no insect problems are budgeted for, in-crop fungicides are budgeted to control both leaf disease and fusarium head blight. Malt barley is a high-value crop, so both yield and quality should be protected based on crop scouting and if the environmental conditions warrant application.

Most of the other assumptions for costs used in the CPG are well described in the assumptions of the CPG. However, machinery, building and land investment costs may be worth looking at more deeply.

Machinery, building and land costs are based on Statistics Canada data. It makes sense that both machinery and building costs increase from Brown to Dark Brown to Black soil zones. The growing season is shorter moving from one to the other, so the window of opportunity is narrower. As a result, more equipment may be used per acre. If that equipment is stored inside, more building space will be required. Yields increase as well, increasing storage costs and maintenance of equipment.

Based on these assumptions, for 2018, malt barley in the Dark Brown soil zone may see a return of $38.15/acre over variable costs and a loss of $81.61/acre over total expenses for this snapshot-in-time of no farm in particular. However, it is worth noting that the break-even yield to cover total expenses is quite close to the 76 bu/ac that the top 20 per cent of farms are achieving. By improving marketing and getting a better price, the profitability improves from there. And, by entering your actual farm costs in the Crop Planner Calculator and under your management and growing conditions, yield and quality of malt barley will be different, resulting in a different outcome.

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