Barley faired much better with the weather and seed supplies seem to be plentiful. A steady increase in acreage in Virginia has produced a continuing good supply of barley seed, plus seed is available from other parts of the country, which has not been the case with most wheat varieties.

3)Weather conditions: El Nino came in wet and cold and La Nina went out hot and dry. The aftermath that began in September is seasonable temperatures with ample, but not flooding, rains. That outlook extends from September until the end of the years.

North Carolina State University agronomist and regional weather guru Ron Heiniger says weather conditions should be ideal for wheat or barley planting. Even better, Heiniger says the window for planting fall crops should extend from mid-September to December, giving farmers ample time to work barley into harvest schedules for other crops.

The summer drought and heat that devastated crops in the upper Southeast also makes for a better situation for barley. In many, if not most, cases cotton, peanuts and soybeans were harvested earlier than usual because of the weather conditions. The early harvest leaves ample time for growers to plant fall grain crops.

4)Residual nitrogen: Corn is a high nitrogen crop. Corn planting in the upper Southeast was up slightly last spring. Heat and drought in the critical growth period of corn devastated crop production, forcing many growers to harvest a small percentage of their expected yield — and to do it early in the season, or in some cases, simply abandon much of their corn acreage.
The end result of weather-related damage to corn has been to leave an ample supply of nitrogen in the soil.The nitrogen requirements for barley are similar to wheat, but in some cases not as demanding. Having residual nitrogen in the soil for fall plantings is a big bonus, regardless of which grain crop the grower is planting.

5)The soybean market is good. El Nino didn’t restrict its impact on grain crops to the Southeastern U.S., crops in other parts of the world were as damaged, in some cases more so, helping to tighten soybean stocks.

Good prices for soybeans are projected for 2011, and there is little reason to doubt soybean acreage in the Southeast will be up next year.

Soybeans and barley are great bedfellows. Tests at Virginia Tech’s Tidewater Agricultural Research and Extension Center indicate a 5-8 bushel advantage for soybeans planted behind barley versus those planted behind wheat.

Hannover, Va., grower Kevin Engel, who grows several thousand acres of barley and wheat, says his best yielding soybeans always come behind barley. The yield advantage is most commonly attributed to harvesting barley 10 days or so earlier than wheat and getting soybeans in the ground earlier behind barley.

For farmers with no wheat seed, barley seems like a ‘no-brainer’. However, for those who do have wheat seed, selling the seed and planting some of the acreage in barley may still be a good economic option.
rroberson@farmpress.com