One of the highlights of Arable Scotland, being held on July2, will be the quick-fire tours of a core set of demonstration plots focusing on innovative breeding and crop management, quality crops and sustainable systems.

This new event is being jointly organised by AHDB, the James Hutton Institute and SRUC, and the demo plots illustrate the main themes, telling the story of the challenges and opportunities of barley production and the innovations which could improve both profitability and sustainability.

Recent figures from Scotland Food and Drink have shown that barley production can bring in more than £250m annually, yet it’s no easy task for growers to make a profit from the crop. It’s through bringing the industry together in discussion and debate that the event hopes to deliver this change. This innovative event aims to concentrate on different elements of the industry and this year a particular focus will be on barley, though there will be much to see about other crops

Plot demonstrations

Zone 1: Innovative breeding – new tools, new resources targeting real needs

“This zone is all about how breeding can help growers adapt to changing market demands,” said Professor Bill Thomas, of the James Hutton Institute. “One area we are looking to increase is yields and maintaining progress in breeding for higher barley yields requires exploration of a number of options.

“For example, if we could combine winter barley yield with spring malting quality, that could help meet the increasing malting barley demand for Scotch whisky production.”

In the longer term, the industry may be faced with shorter growing seasons that will limit opportunities to form long two row ears and the formation of more grains at each node in six-row barleys could give them a large yield advantage over two rows.

“One focus of International Barley Hub research is to better understand the development of the barley ear so that six-row types suitable for the malting industry can be produced,” added Professor Thomas.

Zone 2: Quality crops for defined markets – up and coming or niche varieties and linked market information

This area will showcase the changing market positioning of new and candidate varieties and explain how growing varieties, such as Laureate and LG Diablo, can increase yields on farm.

Dr Steve Hoad, of SRUC, pointed out: “We’ll be able to discuss the evaluation of new cereal varieties with growers and industry on the day, advising them of what varieties will best suit their needs, while providing what their market demands.”

In recent years consistency in grain quality and improved crop resilience has become increasingly important to the industry, while yield – unsurprisingly – remains key. “Variety choices are of course only part of the broader picture,” he said. “Crop management is also vital, but traits such as improved disease resistance and stem strength reduce the risk of poor yield or reduced quality in years of high disease pressure, or climatic stress.”

Zone 3: Innovative crop management – promoting crop protection options and other solutions

“With this zone we want to show industry that they can produce crops in ways which optimise profit and quality whilst minimising pressures on the environment,” Professor Fiona Burnett said. “But it does requires rapid innovation in our management strategies.”

Many of the plots pick up on recent pesticide losses and the pending loss of chlorothalonil and highlight some of the alternatives that should help.

“Reduced reliance on pesticides will mean more targeted and integrated ways of working,” she pointed out. “We will discuss inputs targeted to the variety, market and tillage method. The theme in this zone links to other trials and exhibits on the site which feature novel surveillance and diagnostics that will let us managed crops in smarter ways.”

Zone 4: Sustainable and healthy systems – promoting diversification, intercropping, rotations and soil health

“Healthy, high yielding crops are not just a product of the variety and in-season agronomy, but also the legacy of previous cropping and environmental management, and they leave a legacy for future crops too,” said Cathy Hawes, of the James Hutton Institute.

“In this zone we will discuss and demonstrate how integrated cropping systems, including legumes, inter-crops, cover crops, biodiversity and soil health can contribute to both the short and long-term sustainability and profitability of our cropping cycles and crop environment.”

Legumes are beneficial both as mono-crops and in combinations with other species (inter-cropping), particularly cereals, whether for combine yield or as biomass crops, growing well with reduced inputs and frequently over-yielding.

Other trials and exhibits on the site will feature crop systems, too and there is an opportunity to tour the Centre for Sustainable Cropping six field rotation where a whole-systems approach to integrated crop production is contrasted against standard commercial practice, highlighting the costs and benefits of sustainable land management.

• Arable Scotland will be held at the James Hutton Institute’s Balruddery Farm, on 2 July 2. The event is supported by SEFARI, the Farm Advisory Service and Hutchinsons; growers can register for their free ticket using Eventbrite.