Take the time to plan

Maximize crop yield and quality, minimize fertilizer input costs, and protect the environment by implementing a nutrient management plan. Consider the following elements:

  • a soil test to determine existing nutrient levels, soil electrical conductivity, and soil pH – as barley is more sensitive to low pH soils than other cereals
  • the amount of organic matter within the soil
  • regulations, particularly regarding manure, that apply to your farm
  • a proper application of the soil test recommendations based on your anticipated yield and other crop specifications
  • a conscious effort to balance the effects of applying both manure and commercial fertilizer

The salinity of the soil should also factor into your nutrient management plan. Particularly salty soils are likely to reduce the yield of your barley crop. While barley is more tolerant of salt than other cereal crops, the presence of salt is one indicator of soil drainage problems.

Consider the following nutrients and micronutrients when making your nutrient management plan. 

Nutrients

Nitrogen
Consider nitrogen's end-use as part of your nutrient management strategy. The levels of desirability are different for feed barley versus malting barley, as the rate of direct application is correlated to the level of protein in the barley grain. A higher protein level may be desirable for animal feed.

Proper nitrogen application is a determining factor in the yield and quality of malting barley. Barley plants continue to use available nitrogen even after the requirements for yield are fulfilled which results in a continuing increase of grain protein. Therefore, application of excessive amounts of nitrogen fertilizer will result in unacceptable malting barley.

Environmental factors can mitigate the effect of nitrogen application—particularly low soil moisture. When there are low soil moisture levels, the barley crop will not be able to use all of the nitrogen that is applied.

Phosphorus
The majority of Western Canadian prairie soils are typically phosphorus deficient. An available supply of phosphorus will help your barley crop grow rapidly and mature earlier, a major factor in mitigating the risk of frost. The proper application of phosphorus will also promote increased root growth.

To maximize its benefits, phosphate fertilizer should be seed-placed in soils that have adequate levels of nitrogen. A good, available supply of phosphorus will protect your barley crop against the adverse effects of extreme soil temperatures.

Potassium
Barley requires nearly as much potassium as nitrogen. However, only 20 per cent of the potassium taken up is contained in the seed, while the rest is in the leaves and stems and is normally returned to the soil.

When applying potassium fertilizers, consider banding to increase efficiency. However, the application process should be only determined as part of a proper nutrient management—complete with a soil test.

Sulphur
Barley has a relatively low requirement for sulphur — only about a tenth of what is required for nitrogen.

A steady supply of sulphur is needed throughout the growing season to maturity. Failure to do so will result in decreased yields. Sulphur deficiencies occur due to high sulphur-using crop, sandy soils, gray soils in the northern grain belt, and/or low organic matter soils.

Micronutrients

Copper
Barley is most sensitive to a copper deficiency among the cereal crops. Copper deficiency occurs most often in organic soils. The most common symptom is dieback from the tip of the leaf, often accompanied by twisting of the upper leaves.

Copper has increasingly been recognized as a deficient nutrient, < 0.5 ppm (parts per million), in many Alberta soils. In both provinces, studies have shown that it is the most likely micronutrient to produce significant yield responses.

Manganese
A manganese deficiency can occur when barley is grown in an organic soil or sandy soils. In barley, it appears as a light yellow colour on the leaves with the veins in the leaf remaining slightly darker green. The rate of manganese application should be determined through soil tests and plant analyses.

Zinc
Zinc deficiency in barley does not appear to be a problem.

Boron
Boron deficiency has not been diagnosed in barley.

Banding 101
For optimal barley production
The term banding describes the process of placing the fertilizer in a ‘band’ near the seed while planting.

The band can be placed at a varying distance, depending on the method you choose.
Why it's preferred
Banding may be preferred because it minimizes contact between the soil and the fertilizer and it is relatively cost-effective.

However, it is important to ensure there is not too much fertilizer applied when banding, as it could have a toxic effect.
Mid-row vs side-row
The two most popular methods of banding are referred to as ‘mid-row’ and ‘side’ – both of which are common on the Western Canadian prairies.

Mid-row banding refers to placing the fertilizer between the seed rows, while side banding is where fertilizer goes in the bottom of the furrow while the seed is placed above and to the side.

In barley, the decision to use mid-row vs. side banding is dependent on preference, as research has not shown a conclusive advantage to either.