World Record Barley Yield 2015

March 2016

Minimum tillage and a focus on soil fertility and nutrient loss reduction promotes big yields

In January 2015 South Canterbury cropping farmers Warren and Joy Darling broke a 25-year-old world record for the highest yielding barley, growing 13.8 tonnes a hectare on their Timaru farm.

Warren’s family has been farming just south of Timaru for 3 generations. He says his grandfather bought the property in the 1940s. Some crop was grown during that period but in Warren’s father’s time the farm ran livestock. Warren now farms 450ha of arable crop.

For more than 30 years Warren’s focused on crops. He grows winter barley and wheat for stock feed and rape seed crop for oil.

Warren says the route to the record began 10 years ago when he changed farming practice following a visit to the UK. There he saw minimum tillage systems that encouraged him to return to NZ and introduce the system here.

The idea is to nurture soils through minimum cultivation and managing crop residues He also works with a fertiliser company to build base fertility and reduce nutrient losses.

Instead of burning off crop residues these are incorporated into the soil, creating a friable compost-like topsoil which is ideal for establishing new crops.

Warren uses Agronomy Solutions based in Ashburton to give him precision soil testing. This level of detail is then translated into the variable rate fertiliser application so both the soil and the crop are getting exactly the right amount of nutrients and elements in the right places.

During crop establishment Warren aims to minimise the number of passes with his machinery. The first pass cultivates the soil and the second pass drills the crop.

He has a new tractor which runs on tracks, lessening the soil compaction. The combine harvester also runs on tracks.

Once the crop is planted, any further passes with machinery such as spraying are done by staying on the tram lines.

After achieving the new barley record Warren’s now encouraged to put the lessons learnt on that barley crop into the commercial crops they grow.

To have an attempt at the record the Darlings got in contact with the Guinness World Records. There are strict guidelines to meet the record. To grow a record qualifying crop the area had to be a minimum of 8 ha.

The farm grows around 130 hectares of barley each year but their record crop was grown in a 11 8ha paddock. Warren says they were encouraged to have an attempt at the previous record of 12.2t/ha after harvesting 11.5t/ha of feed barley the previous year.

On the day of the record he drove the harvester and left others to keep an eye on how the record was tracking.

He says Timaru’s weather is ideal for winter barley and he says it played a big part in providing the conditions for the crop’s preparation, grain filling and harvesting to set up for a record attempt.

He says the farm received a lot of rain in the winter to carry them through to spring and they avoided high temperatures in summer for grain filling and plenty of sunshine for harvesting.

The record attempt in late January was ratified by Guinness World Records on April 15. The previous record was set by Scotsman Gordon Rennie in 1989. The record-breaking variety 776 is a winter barley that Warren sources from the Exclusive Grain Group which is managed by Canterbury Seed.

He says there was “no secret recipe” in the agronomy package but he does believe variety, low seed rate, and min-till cultivation were key.