Switching from old favourite Concerto to the spring malting barley LG Diablo two years ago proved a good decision for Berwickshire grower, Neil White, who farms 260 ha of combinable crops at Greenknowe, near Duns.

Malting barley has long been a cornerstone of the rotation on this family farm, so he knew how crucial it was to consistently hit the specification required by end users and was pleased with LG Diablo’s ability to do just that.

Previously, the farm had been growing Concerto for several years as it reliably achieved the malting spec' needed by grain buyer, Simpsons Malt, Mr White explained.

However, when Simpsons’s agricultural trading arm, McCreath, Simpson and Prentice, recommended switching to LG Diablo, given its consistent quality and improved yield potential, he decided to make the change.

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“As a malting barley grower, we have to be led by what the buyer wants. MSP said the variety had performed well in local trials so we decided to give it a go and put all 150 acres of our spring barley into it in 2020 and 2021,” he said.

Both seasons resulted in good yields from spring barley crops, with LG Diablo typically achieving the farm’s target of 7.4-8.6 t/ha (3-3.5 t/acre) on the varied soil type, compared with nearer 6.8 t/ha (2.75 t/acre) from Concerto previously. Crucially, LG Diablo also met the malting specification required by Simpsons Malt.

Steve Hoad, from Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC), said LG Diablo’s yield in the North region (102%), consistent quality and full approval for both brewing and distilling, made it an attractive choice for spring barley growers.

“In commercial samples, LG Diablo is pretty consistent at delivering the lower nitrogen needed for malt distilling, which may partly reflect some yield dilution effect.

"Grain size is also strong. When we examined samples from testing, LG Diablo is always at the upper end in terms of producing good, bold grains. Screenings levels are good too and it has intermediate risk for grain skinning.”

Dr Hoad acknowledged some growers might be wary of the variety’s slightly later maturity (+2 days compared to Concerto), but said this might only be an issue in later harvested areas. Indeed, its slightly later maturity could prolong grain filling, which in turn improves yield and grain size.

Cost saving

LG Diablo now sits among SRUC’s top group of spring barleys in terms of agronomics and disease profile, with particularly strong performance in untreated trials, Dr Hoad said.

A good untreated yield may buy growers some flexibility and reassurance in the event of fungicide timings being compromised due to the weather, he notes.

Mr White pointed out that LG Diablo had been pretty straightforward to manage and even allowed a slight reduction in spray costs. “Previously, we used to apply a low rate of growth regulator to Concerto to encourage it to root and tiller, but we haven’t needed to do this with LG Diablo, which possibly reflects its strong vigour.”

Much of Mr White’s farm is direct drilled with a Mzuri Pro Til 3T, at a row spacing that is much wider than spring barley is conventionally sown at, he notes. “LG Diablo is quite vigorous, so is able to fill the gaps between rows nicely," he said.

“Depending on conditions, we usually sow spring barley around the third week in March once the soil is dry and warm enough – usually above 4-5°C. We apply a NPK starter fertiliser down the leading leg with seed, to help get crops off to a good start.”

This is usually followed by two fungicides – one with trace elements at GS23 and a second at GS39 with manganese.

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Mr White added that the variety had shown very little brackling – something that was always a threat if weather turned unsettled at harvest, but especially so on wider 33cm rows, pointing out that 'once crops start to brackle, they can soon go right over'.

“LG Diablo’s later maturity has never been an issue for us, even though we’re not spraying anything off with glyphosate anymore,” he added.

“Sometimes we are holding off combining spring barley slightly longer, but this is more due to the fact that we’re now drilling wheat earlier, so often wheat is ready at the same time as the barley.”