Ley Farming

by Sir R. George Stapledon and William Davies

Chapter 15
The Choice of Varieties of Cereals and Other Crops

Under the ley system, crops will be grown on soils of the widest possible range of productive capacity, for the essence of the system is to take the plough around the whole of a farm. The system should everywhere replace permanent grass, and therefore carry crop production into districts of both the lowest and highest productivity. To-day the farmer can choose from a number of varieties in the case of most of his crops, and success or failure may depend upon the correctness of his choice, while, failures apart, the most suitable variety may yield up to 20 per cent in excess of one which is unsuitable. The far-flung ploughing-up of permanent grass as a war measure had the immediate effect of greatly extending the range of conditions under which all crops are being grown, and since high yields are still an urgent necessity, the choice of the correct variety for each field is a matter of national importance.

Varieties are exceedingly sensitive to the productive capacity of the soil, and they may be graded as most suitable for soils of very low, low, average, high, or very high fertility. In the choice of a variety, as indeed of a crop, nothing is of greater moment than to make a selection from the crops or varieties appropriate to the particular fertility class. The case of cereals is of peculiar importance, because as a crisis measure the tendency often is to grow several white straw crops in succession, and consequently, as fertility may be diminished, so will it be essential for succeeding crops to be represented by varieties suited to lower grades of fertility.

On the basis of average yields for England and Wales, wheat at 16.8 cwt. per acre gives a heavier grain crop than oats (average 15.2 cwt. per acre) or barley (15.1 cwt. per acre) (we quote the average figure for the ten-year period 1924-33), and wheat is generally considered to demand more fertile soils than the other two cereals: yet, if we take the counties which give the highest yields of all three cereals (e.g. Isle of Ely), the order is reversed, oats yielding 24.8 cwt. per acre, barley 20.6 cwt. per acre, and wheat 21.0 cwt. per acre. If we turn to counties where cereal yields are at their lowest (e.g. Radnor and Merioneth), we find that oats give the safest crop at an average of 11.5 cwt. per acre. The oat is undoubtedly the most reliable cereal to grow on poor soils and in regions of high rainfall, and should usually be the second white straw crop to follow wheat on even the more fertile soils in districts not really well suited to wheat cultivation.

The oat crop has a wider range of applicability than the other cereals, and on that very account every attention should be given to the selection of a variety in harmony with the productive capacity of the soil. In experiments conducted some years ago at Aberystwyth, it was found that on soils with a high yield expectancy Record (a typical high fertility oat) gave 5 per cent more grain than Radnorshire Sprig (a typical variety for land of medium productivity). On both medium and poor land, however, Radnorshire Sprig out-yielded Record by 13 per cent, while under the poorest conditions the little grey oat (=Ceirch Llwyd=Avena strigosa) has given higher grain yields than Radnorshire Sprig.

When we are catering for soils of the highest productive class, we have to give special consideration to standing ability as well as yield, and this latter point is one to which the plant-breeder has given a great deal of attention. Ability to withstand lodging is an important attribute in all cereal varieties, and not only to those intended for use on the most productive soils, and it is of special significance when seeds mixtures are sown under a cereal nurse. We will now deal separately with oats, barley and wheat, and with particular reference to the grading of the varieties in relation to the productive capacity of the soil.


The following varieties are recommended:

(a) On highly fertile soils (yield expectation 24 cwt. grain per acre and upwards):

The above are all comparatively new varieties, with straw of high resistance to lodging.

(b) On good soils (yield expectation 18-24 cwt. grain per acre and upwards):

This group includes most of the well-known and widely distributed varieties, all of which form reasonably stiff straw.

(c) On medium to good soils (yield expectation of 14-18 cwt. grain per acre):

(d) On poor to medium soils (yield expectation 10-14 cwt. grain per acre):

These are essentially fodder-producing varieties, and peculiarly applicable to upland and semi-upland areas. The straw growth is generally abundant, and the unthreshed sheafs make excellent cattle fodder.

(e) On poor upland soils (yield expectation less than 12 cwt. per acre):

These varieties are heavy straw producers, tiller profusely and on the poorest of soils give higher grain yields and, on most soils, more straw than the normal oat varieties.

(f) For sowing in February and early March. The.following are recommended for dry and fertile soils:

(g) Winter oats. There are now on the market relatively winter-hardy and good standing varieties of white winter oats which do well on soils of high fertility: for example, Picton, Aberystwyth S. 147 and Aberystwyth S. 172. The last-mentioned is a variety with short, very stiff straw, and it has an exceptionally high resistance to lodging.


For spring sowing we have:

On good lowland soils. Plumage-Archer, Spratt-Archer, Hen Gymro, Kenia and Maja, Pioneer, Earl, Camton, Prefect. The first two varieties give high yields of grain of good malting quality. All of these varieties, except Hen Gymro (an old variety grown fairly extensively in Wales) have stiff or fairly stiff straw: Svalof Victory and the two Danish varieties, Kenia and Maja, are early maturing varieties, suitable on richer soils and for sowing when the season is late.

On medium soils. Spratt-Archer, Standwell and Hen Gymro.

On poor and upland soils. Hen Gymro, Bere and Haidd Garw. The last-named is a hardy high-yielding six-rowed barley. It is early ripening, with a fairly stiff straw.

Winter Barley

The ordinary six-rowed barley is winter-hardy, but the grain can only be used for fodder.


With wheat, as with other cereals, resistance to lodging is of extreme importance, while varieties like Yeoman and Holdfast have grain of excellent quality for bread-making. The leading winter wheats may be grouped as under, having regard more particularly to the productive capacity of the soil.

(a) For bread-making, and suitable only for land in good heart:

(b) The best soils (yield expectancy 25 cwt. grain per acre and upwards):

(c) Good soils (yield expectancy 20-25 cwt. grain per acre):

(d) Average soils:

(e) Medium-poor soils (yield expectancy 16-20 cwt. grain per acre):

(f) Light soils:

(g) Clay soils of low fertility:

(h) Poor soils:

Hen Gymro ripens well under adverse conditions, it tillers freely and is a very safe cropper, and under poor conditions gives a much better grain sample than Squarehead's Master: it is not, however, a good standing wheat. If wheat production had to be carried to extreme lengths, crop following on crop even on the poorer soil, then increasing reliance would have to be placed on Squarehead's Master, Rivet and Hen Gymro.

Spring Wheats

Many of the earlier-maturing varieties of winter wheat can be sown during January and not later than the middle of February. The following are recommended:

For sowing during the latter half of February and the first half of March:

For sowing during the latter half of March and early April.

Mixed Cereals

When high yields are required for feed and on relatively poorer soils, it is often wise to sow a mixture of oats and barley. Similarly, safer and higher yields can often be assured on poor soils or as a second or third grain crop by mixing varieties of one and the same cereal. On poor situations in hilly districts in Wales, a popular mixture is Scotch Potato and Ceirch Llwyd, and on slightly better situations, Golden Rain II is added to improve the grain weight of the sheaf. On soils of medium productive capacity, a serviceable mixture is Victory or Golden Rain II and Scotch Potato.

The grading of varieties to match the productive capacity of the soil applies to all other crops as well as to cereals. We have, however, dealt explicitly with the grain crops because of their great importance at the present time, and because oats, wheat and barley together will contribute so large an acreage to the land that is being brought under the plough, and these three cereals will be represented on soils of every degree and shade of character and fertility all over the country.

With regard to many other crops, it is as much a matter of choosing the appropriate crop as the appropriate variety. Thus, as we have already said, kale makes higher demands on fertility than rape, and rape higher demands than hardy green turnips, while marrow-stem kale needs a soil in a higher state of fertility than does the thousand-headed kale.

Again, the better grasses make higher demands upon fertility than do the legumes -- white clover and trefoil, for example, if aided by phosphates, can be decidedly productive on very poor soils.

We have wished primarily to emphasize the very important principle that the selection of both crops and the varieties of particular crops should be largely determined by the productive capacity of the soil. This principle, always of great practical significance, is doubly so to-day, when crop production is enormously extended and carried into regions of low as well as of high fertility, and when to achieve sumptuous yields per acre is a matter of supreme national importance. Ley farming, let us repeat, postulates maximum crop production and maximum grass production, and both carried into the most inhospitable and unpromising territory.


JONES, E. T. (1935). 'Observations on Yield Trials and Varieties of Spring-Sown Oats in Relation to Different Levels of Productivity in Wales.' Annals of Applied Biology. Vol. 22.

'Growmore' Leaflet No. 18.

'Farmers' leaflets', Nos. I and 2. Issued by the National Institute of Agricultural Botany.

Next: 16. Herbage Seed Production

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