IN A GOOD year farmers often question the need to grow barley.
The higher priced crops such as wheat, canola and pulses often yield well and while barley holds its own in terms of tonnage the lower prices and the difficulty in producing malt quality grain mean it can very much be the poor cousin.
Come a dry season, however, and growers wish they had another paddock or two of the hardy cereal in.
The renowned toughness of the barley plant shows up especially well in dry or frost affected springs such as the one much of Australia has experienced this year.
With a reasonably wet winter across areas such as southern Western Australia, coastal South Australia and Victoria's Wimmera-Mallee barley was able to set its yield potential before the season switched off and a relatively cool finish has meant there are fewer quality issues than usual.
"It's been a really strong year for barley, it has looked good all year and the early harvest results are backing that up," said Market Check head of strategy Nick Crundall.
"Everyone who has harvested has said the crops have done at least what they expected or even a little better."
InterGrain barley breeder David Moody said this year had been well suited to barley.
"In terms of barley it is really important for the crop to get out of the ground quickly and then also late winter rain is important, we had both of these this year in many areas."
Dr Moody said another important strong point of barley was its relative tolerance of frost.
"There was a lot of frost about in September but there is not much damage."
He said the frost tolerance meant farmers were happier to plant the crop earlier, which gave it a better chance of achieving its yield potential.
"The earlier sowing has been a big part in the improved yields we have seen in barley of late."
Barley Australia executive chairman Megan Sheehy said it was pleasing to see the crop providing a bright spot in an otherwise tough season for many.
"We're hearing stories of barley going really well, even in drought-hit parts of Queensland and NSW where there has been very little growing season rain the crops have managed to get through to harvest and in the areas with a bit more rain the yield potential is very good leading into harvest."
Dr Moody said in Western Australia barley production was likely to be well in excess of four million tonnes, not that far behind wheat, which could be as low as 6.5m tonnes.
"Wheat yields kept coming back during the spring but barley has stayed much the same."
In the Victorian Mallee there have been reports of crops yielding as much as 4.5 tonnes a hectare, which is well above average, in spite of well below average spring rainfall/.
Lah, north of Warracknabeal, farmer David Drage said he was pleased with his barley crops this year.
"There was some stored moisture from summer rain and even though we planted relatively late, to reduce the risk of growing excessive biomass that the plant couldn't handle if the spring came in tight, the crops look really good.
"It's getting pretty close to harvest and the grain is filling in the head well, so we're almost there."
Mr Drage said he also loved the competitiveness of barley.
"It is good at outcompeting the weeds."