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No one is more aware of what a fragile balance agriculture can be than farmers. Selecting the right crop, choosing the correct time to seed and knowing what kind of inputs to apply and how much can spell the difference between a successful year and an unproductive one.

That’s especially true when it comes to growing malt barley. While malt quality barley offers some enticing rewards, it can also come with some significant challenges.

Challenges include:

  • Moisture content. Too much rain can cause high moisture levels in the soil, leading to pre-harvest sprouting conditions, reduced storage ability and increased risk of Fusarium and other leaf-borne disease.
  • Determining the correct level of fertilization. It all comes down to a balancing act.
    • Increasing nitrogen levels can lead to higher yields and high kernel weights, it can also lead to too much protein in the kernel and a poor-quality malt that fails to meet industry specifications.
    • Not enough nitrogen can mean inadequate yields
  • Timing. Getting your malt barley off the field early and into an aeration device helps ensure it dries properly and enhances the quality of the malt while reducing the risks associated with storage.
  • Plant stand. Careful consideration of your seeding rate is key to provide lower protein levels and speed up plant maturity.
    • You don’t want your plant stand to be too light as this can allow more room for tillering and weeds.
    • You also don’t want your plant stand to be too dense.
  • Variety selection. The right variety can vary from farm to farm and depends on several factors including cost, productivity, variability in yield and grade, price and risk.

Know your soil

That means understanding what your soil’s base fertility is and where it needs to be. GPS soil sampling each zone in the field can help identify soil nutrients that can be limiting growth, indicate appropriate fertilizer rates, protect against over fertilization and help recognize polluted or contaminated soil.

The Good News

The good news is that none of the above challenges are insoluble. In fact, the best probability of success involved having the right agronomics and that means the use of variable rate technology (VRT). VRT allows growers to apply just the right amount of nitrogen and other nutrients combined with the proper seeding rate by providing you with a prescription that is tailored to your particular needs of each area of your fields.

Along with decent yields and excellent barley quality (including protein levels and kernel plumpness), producers have reported other benefits. Most producers reported seeing improved standability of the crop on VRT acres. More even emergence of their crops and more even maturity. Crops were denser and with even maturity growers felt they had improved coverage during field spraying operations, such as fungicide application.

Yield bu/acProtein (%)Plump Size$ Increase
Optimize RX™ Field 199.6711.5098.00i73%
Optimize RX Field 270.7311.5098.0022%
Average Grower57.7611.8692.20

Results may vary on the farm due to environmental factors and preferred management practices. Based on independent third-party field-scale trials in NW Saskatchewan. Optimize RX results compared to the actual grower average in the malt program.

Commitment to Research

These results are so encouraging that they’ve prompted us to make a major investment inadditional research on malt barley. As part of our commitment to field research on malt barley and to provide farm technologies backed by real data, we partnered with Olds College with the College’s exciting initiative, Smart Farm, that has seen the College transform into a farm of the future. By incorporating the latest technologies aimed at improving productivity, while efficiently and sustainably using resources, the Smart Farm is a cutting-edge learning environment for students and life-long learners.

Stay tuned for exciting results on our project with Olds College and Red Shed Malting!

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