Replacing bagged nitrogen in wheat and barley

RAGT hosted hundreds of growers, merchants and agronomists from across the country at the company’s Ickleton, Cambridgeshire trials site during June.

The work includes several new projects that aim to help growers get the best from their RAGT varieties, taking into account changing methods driven by political and economic demands.

Here’s our pick of what was on show.

Replacing bagged nitrogen in wheat and barley

Two large blocks of milling wheats have been intercropped with nitrogen-fixing cover crop species to see if the technique might encourage more effective nitrogen uptake by the wheats, replacing some bagged nitrogen and improving protein production efficiency.

The trial features November-sown RGT Illustrious and Skyfall, each under two nitrogen regimes of 280kg/ha and 250kg/ha, grown together with a range of clovers – a micro-clover, which consists of 90% root and 10% leaf, red clover, white clover, red and white clover, and fallow.

The clovers were stitched into the wheat in the spring using a light drill. The aim is to establish a permanent understorey. RAGT managing director Lee Bennett said: “It’s not unheard of to fix 200kg/ha of N, so it is going to be interesting to see what we can achieve when we have well-established clover.”

A similar technique is being tested on stands of malting barleys RGT Planet and RGT Asteroid. These have been overlaid by a matrix of catch crops and fallow.

The catch crops – vetch, radish plus Phacelia, and forage rape plus berseem clover plus vetch – provide a nitrogen source, a nitrogen sink and both source and sink respectively.

Each variety plot has been divided, with one receiving a “standard” nitrogen application of 120kg/ha and the other a reduced 100kg/ha.

The companion crops were planted as soon the preceding wheat was cut then sprayed off with glyphosate in January just before the spring barley was drilled.

“We’re looking to see whether the companions retain more soil N or create more, and whether that enables us to produce guidelines to help growers reduce inorganic N use in the barley while still hitting quality and specification,” said Lee.

“One global maltster is very interested in this, and we will roll this work out in support of European colleagues as well. We’ve started conservatively, but it could be that the right catch crops could provide most, if not all of, the nitrogen that malting barley crops require.”

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