By Professor Fiona Burnett, head of crops and soils research group, SRUC.

GETTING a crop of spring barley off to a good start is crucial to the end result and it all starts with the seed.

Making sure it is of good quality and will germinate well is the first building block for producing a productive crop, and without that foundation stone all other efforts will be compromised.

Whether bought in or home-saved, the germination rate should be known so that seed rates can be accurately adjusted to suit. Certified seed will come with the security of good seed health and will reduce the risks of disease issues such as loose smut, leaf stripe and net blotch.

If you are using home saved seed, it is worth testing for those diseases so that you can select the best seed treatment. Not all spring barley seed treatments are active against all diseases.

We've found that some of the seed being tested at the moment is very high in microdochium. This can cause seedling blight in spring crops if they are drilled into cold wet soils. In warming soils, when the crop gets away fast, the risk is much lower.

But it is worth remembering that if you only get seed tested for germination, which is usually done in a laboratory under ideal conditions, it won’t reveal issues like blights which can reduce germination in the harsh reality of a cold wet field.

There have been significant changes in available seed treatments for this year with some losing approval and others in their final months.

Previously available choices might not be there, so if you move to something new this year, then check that it covers the diseases you are most concerned about.

A proportion of spring barley seed is drilled without any seed treatment at all. This should only be done if you know the seed stock has good germination, is not carrying any disease and you can be confident it is going in to a good, warming seed bed.