1902 Encyclopedia > Agriculture > Barley

(Part 51)



In Great Britain barley is the grain crop which ranks next in importance to wheat, both in an agricultural and commercial point of view. Its use as bread-corn is confined to portions of the lowlands of Scotland, where unleavened cakes, or "bannocks o’ barley meal," still constitute the daily bread of the peasantry. It is more largely used in preparing the "barley broth" so much relished by all classes in Scotland. To fit the grain for this purpose, it is prepared by a peculiar kind of mill, originally introduced from Holland by Fletcher of Saltoun, in which a thick cylinder of gritty sandstone is made tto revolve rapidly within a case of perforated sheet-iron. The barley is introduced between the stone and its case, and there subjected to violent rubbing, until first its husk and then its outer coatings are removed. It is, however, in the production of malt liquor and ardent spirits, and in the fattening of live stock, that our barley crops are chiefly consumed. We have no doubt that it would be better for the whole community if this grain were more largely used in the form of butcher-meat and greatly less in that of beer or whisky. It has been customary for farmers to look upon distillation as beneficial to them from the ready market which it affords for barley, and more especially for the lighter qualities of this and other grain crops. But this is a very short-sighted view of the matter; for careful calculation shows that when the labouring man spends a shilling in the dram-shop, not more than a penny of it goes for the agricultural produce (barley) from which the gin or whisky is made; whereas, when he spends the same sum with the butcher or baker, nearly the whole amount goes for the raw material, and only a fraction for the tradesman’s profits. And not only so, but the man who spends a part of his wages upon strong drink diminishes, both directly and indirectly, his ability to buy wholesome food and good clothing; so that, apart from the moral and social bearings of this question, it can abundantly be shown that whisky or beer is the very worst form for the farmer in which his grain can be consumed. Were the £50,000,000 at present annually spent in Great Britain upon ardent spirits (not to speak of beer), employed in purchasing bread, meat, dairy produce, vegetables, woollen and linen clothing, farmers would, on the one hand, be relieved from oppressive rates, and, on the other, have such an increased demand for their staple products as would far more than compensate for the closing of what is at present the chief outlet for their barley.

There are many varieties of barley in cultivation, and some of them are known by different names in different districts. Those most esteemed at present in Berwickshire and neighbouring counties are the Chevalier, the Annat, and the common-early long-eared. The chevalier produces the finest and heaviest grain, weighing usually from 54 lb to 56 lb per bushel, and is in high estimation with maltsters. It is also tall and stout in the straw, which is less liable to lodge than that of the common barley; and when this accident does happen, it has the valuable property of not producing aftershoots or greens. It requires about fourteen days longer than the common-early to reach maturity, but as it admits of being sown earlier than the latter sort, this is in practice no drawback to it. The Annat barley resembles the chevalier in its leading features, but is yellower in its complexion, and not quite so round in the grain. It ripens a few days earlier than the chevalier, and in our own experience is more productive. The common-early is more liable than those just noticed to suffer from over-luxuriance. It is generally used for the latest sowings on those portions of land from which the turnip crop has been longest in being removed.

In the elevated or northern parts of the kingdom, four-rowed barley, usually called bere or bigg, is cultivated, as it is more hardy, and ripens earlier than the two-rowed variety. Anew variety, called Victoria bere, is said to be so productive, and to yield such a heavy sample, as to be worthy of cultivation even in lowland districts.

Barley delights in a warm, friable soil, and thrives best when the seed is deposited rather deeply in a tilthybed. Being the grain crop best adapted for succeeding turnips that have been consumed by sheep-folding, advantage must be taken of favouring weather to plough up the land in successive portions as the sheep-fold is shifted. So much of it as is ploughed before 1st February will usually get so mellowed by the weather as to be easily brought into suitable condition for receiving the seed. In Scotland the usual practice is to sow broadcast on this stale furrow, and to cover the seed by simple harrowing. A better way is first to level the surface by a stroke of the harrows, and then to form it into ribs twelve inches apart by such an implement as has been described when speaking of Tennant’s grubber. Over this corrugated surface the seed is sown broadcast, and covered by another turn of the harrows. The ribbing loosens the soil, gives the seed a uniform and sufficient covering, and deposits it in rows. The only advantage of such ribbing over drilling is, that the soil is better stirred, and the seed deposited more deeply, and less crowded than is done by the ordinary drills. It is certainly of great advantage to have the seed-corn deposited in narrow lines, so far as the working of the horse-hoe is concerned; but we are convinced that stiffer stems, larger ears, a more abundant yield, and a brighter sample, are likely to be obtained when the seed is loosely scattered in a channel three or four inches wide than when crowded into a narrow line. This grain is now sown considerably earlier than heretofore. When the soil is enriched by plentiful manuring, its temperature raised by thorough draining, and the climate and exposure favourable, it should be sown as early in March as possible, and will often do remarkably well although sown in February. This early sowing counteracts that tendency to over-luxuriance by which the crop is so often ruined in fertile soils. It is chiefly oving to this early sowing (although aided by the use of hummelling machinery) that the average weight of barley is so much greater now than it was thirty years ago. From 54 lb to 56 lb per bushel is now about the average weight in well-cultivated districts; while 57 lb and 58 lb is by no means rare. The produce per acre ranges from 30 to 60 bushels, 36 bushels being about the average. The quantity of seed used per acre is from 2 1/2 to 3 bushels for broadcast sowing, and about a third less when drilled. As already remarked in regard to wheat, it is well, as the season advances, to avoid, by a fuller allowance of seed, the temptation to excessive tillering, and consequent unequal and later ripening. A good crop of barley yields about 1 ton each per acre of grain and straw.

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