March 2021 eNewsletter
Big news! We are funding approximately $1 million in new barley research
Earlier this month we announced we are funding another approximately $1 million of barley research (more than $2.3 million including in-kind and other support) over the next four years – a major advancement for barley producers in Saskatchewan.
This funded research is the result of a call for research proposals we issued last year, with a goal to invest in new and exciting barley research – not available through traditional research channels — to benefit Saskatchewan producers.
As a result, we received 18 full applications, of which we approved nine. The newly funded research is focused on areas such as: exploring novel mechanisms of resistance to fusarium head blight; management of other diseases in barley; optimizing processing practices; and enhancing malting barley quality for beer production.
With this latest investment, we are nearly where we want to be in terms of barley research investments, now allocating more than 60 per cent of our annual budget towards this goal.
Barley market outlook
Lots of excitement in the barley market
Over the past year, many of us have gotten very tired of hearing the word “unprecedented,” particularly referring to the Covid-19 situation.
But when “unprecedented” is used about grain markets, it feels a lot better. Most crops have seen very strong prices this year and for some like barley, prices have never been this high – truly “unprecedented.”
Depending on location, elevator bids are well north of $6 per bushel (bu), with some feedlots in southern Alberta closer to $7/bu. Malt barley bids have also moved sharply higher, although most of the gains were actually driven by feed barley pushing from below.
The barley rally is being fueled by the largest Canadian exports since the mid-90s. China is the overwhelmingly dominant buyer, paying high enough prices to scare off most other buyers. Now that the much larger Australian crop is available at cheaper prices, Japan and countries in the Middle East have shifted their purchases to Australia and don’t need to compete with China.
Even though Canadian barley exports are less than half of domestic feed use, that proportion has been rising in the last couple of years. In 2020/21, the additional 850,000 tonnes of barley flowing out of Western Canada into export channels have forced livestock feeders to compete with aggressive Chinese buyers. Often in the past, high barley prices triggered more imports of United States’ (U.S.) corn but this year, corn is even more expensive than barley, largely ruling out imports. Supplies of feed wheat are also stretched thin and some feeders are now resorting to importing cheaper U.S. barley to help fill the gap.
Geopolitical issues are making trade flows a lot more complicated than in the past. Saudi Arabia isn’t buying any Canadian barley while China has imposed 80% import tariffs on Australian barley. More recently, Russia has started to impose taxes on exports of barley and other crops, which could disrupt things further. Because these decisions are made by government, policy shifts certainly can change the outlook abruptly and dramatically, adding some risk to the outlook.
One of the big questions for 2021/22 is how much Canadian acreage will expand. There’s been a lot of buzz about planting barley this year, leading to some big acreage forecasts for Western Canada. High prices of numerous crops are causing fierce competition for acres and could offset barley’s expansion.
As always, this type of environment raises the risk of overproducing, although a bigger barley crop is needed simply to rebuild supplies back to normal levels. Of course, farmers in other countries are also seeing the high prices and will also try to respond with bigger production, but acreage competition is intense around the globe.
Aside from acreage, there are a lot of other “ifs” that will affect the market. Yields in Canada and elsewhere are the largest factor influencing the outlook and it’s simply too soon to make any meaningful calls. That said, there are already concerns about dryness in Western Canada. The other main unknown is whether China will continue to buy at a similar pace in 2021/22. Not only is the country’s own crop outlook in question but its hog herd situation is also highly uncertain. There are plenty of factors to watch as the 2020/21 season winds down and the 2021 outlook unfolds.
Seeding considerations for this spring
By Mitchell Japp
Seeding sets the stage for the season. Seeding time is exciting and full of anticipation of the year ahead. But, it is also hectic, rushed and stressful. Planning ahead to get set up for season is one step towards setting up for a great crop season and helps to alleviate some of the pressures of seeding time.
Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada researcher John O’Donovan led a significant number of malt barley agronomy projects about 10 years ago. Included in that work was a significant review of seeding rates. The research team tested seeding rates across multiple environments and found 300 live seeds/m2 was the optimum rate.
What does that mean on the farm? Seeding rate recommendations are often made with a specific plant population in mind. The rate will vary depending on target plant population, germination, seed weight and seedling mortality. Each operation will have varying degrees of seedling mortality, depending on their equipment, seeding depth, moisture, soil and more. The researchers fixed what they could control (live seeds accounts for germination) and analyzed their data based on that variable. Plant populations for a treatment with 300 live seeds would vary, so analysis becomes less clear. They did measure the populations and generally had 200-220 plants/m2 at that seeding rate. That recommendation is based on a broad range of environments and specific agronomic management.
So, what happens if you select a seeding rate based on pounds per acre or bushels per acre? The challenge with a weight or volume based approach to seeding rates is that it cannot account for variation in seed size or germination. Seed size can vary widely, and if seeding rates are not adjusted accordingly, the target plant population may be higher or lower than desired. Seed weight varies by variety, location and year, so even using your own seed will end up with variation from year to year.
(target #plants/m2)*TKW (grams) = Seeding rate (kg/ha) (*0.89 to convert to lbs/ac)
% germination + field mortality
220 * 50 = 129 kg/ha * 0.89 = 115 lbs/ac
Where, the target plant stand is 220 plants/m2, thousand kernel weight is 50 g, and germination and mortality is 85%. Expected mortality for cereals is 5-20%. In this example, I assumed 95% germination and 10% mortality.
As shown above, targeting a plant stand similar to O’Donovan’s research results in a bit more than 2 bu/ac seeding rate.
If we look at it in reverse and consider a 2 bu/ac seeding rate for two different seed lots, what will the expected difference in plant stand be?
96 lbs/ac * 85 = 183 plants/m2
0.89 * 50
96 lbs/ac * 85 = 203 plants/m2
0.89 * 45
Where, assuming 48 lb barley, 96 lbs/ac equals 2 bu/ac seeding rate, 0.89 is the conversion to metric, 50 and 45 are the thousand kernel weights in each example and 85 is the combined germination and mortality rate.
As shown in the above examples, even a relatively small change in seed weight (thousand kernel weight) results in a 10% change in plant stand.
Barley is relatively tolerant to spring frosts and is considered to start growing at as little as 3ºC, although that is not the optimal temperature for growth. That makes it an ideal candidate for early seeding. John O’Donovan looked at seeding dates for barley as well, comparing early May to late May. His research generally supports early seeding for barley, especially malt barley, but not in all environments.
The researchers found that in most environments, delayed seeding led to negative outcomes for malt barley, including increased protein concentration, and decreased plumpness, and in some cases, yield. However, in six of the 24 environments tested, later seeding led to higher yields.
The environments tested ranged across the prairie region. Previous work focused in southern Alberta found a clear yield reduction with later seeding. Because this study included more environments, they found that earlier seeding was more favourable in southern locations and delayed seeding performed better in more northerly locations.