After the exceptionally wet autumn and winter, many farmers will be assessing their options for spring cropping after winter drilling was abandoned.
Maize is an excellent choice for many, but given the likely difficult drilling and establishment conditions this spring, care will need to be taken to ensure the crop is given the best chance of success.
After the prolonged wet weather, soils are likely to be cold, wet and slow to warm up and may have suffered compaction as a result of machinery traffic on saturated ground at harvest.
Tim Richmond, maize manager of LG Seeds, says achieving a good maize crop will depend on reducing the risk of poor establishment and there are many factors to consider.
He says: “Careful site choice, opting for south-facing fields which warm up more quickly in spring and are ideally situated on free draining soils is key.
Where possible, land damaged during the wet weather should be avoided.
“Creating a fine and firm seedbed to ensure good seed to soil contact is critical, as it is not uncommon for a prolonged dry spell to follow a wet winter.
Drilling at the optimum time when soil temperatures at depth of sowing have consistently achieved 8-10degC is essential to promote germination and rapid early plant growth.
“For every week drilling is delayed, harvest may also be a week later, meaning the choice of variety may need to be revised.
“As a specialist breeder, LG is best placed to produce varieties ideal for UK conditions, such as Pinnacle, Resolute and Prospect having excellent early vigour to aid speedy establishment.”
One of the big changes to affect maize growers this year is the ban on production of mesurol seed treatments.
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Only limited amounts of seed treated with mesurol are available, with most breeders now adopting Korit seed treatment as an alternative for use as a bird repellent.
Mr Richmond advises great care is taken when handling this seed.
He says: “The safety profile for Korit means farmers and contractors must take adequate precautions when handling the seed once the bag has been opened.
Those in contact with the seed should wear nitrile gloves, suitable work overalls and a respiratory mask.
“Full safety documentation is included on every bag of LG seed and it is vital farmers read this carefully.” There may be instances where it is not possible to source repellent treated seed and, if farmers are experiencing bird problems, Mr Richmond advises sowing at a greater depth.
He says: “Consider sowing the seed at about 7cm or deeper to help prevent bird damage.
Remember the soil will take longer to warm at the increased sowing depth and temperature should be monitored.
If seed is drilled into a cold, wet seedbed, there will be a danger of loss of plants due to the seed either rotting or expending its energy reserves before it reaches the surface.” Mr Richmond says that if birds are not causing a problem to the crop, growers should look at seed dressings which work in other positive ways and can potentially deliver a bigger benefit to the maize crop.
Looking to the future, it is likely Ziram, the active ingredient of Korit, will only be available in the short-term, possibly only until 2021.
Mr Richmond says the industry needs to find innovative solutions for getting maize established successfully.
He says: “LG Seeds has introduced a new biological seed treatment, called Starcover, to aid establishment and promote crop development.
This unique combination of a root growth promoting plant extract and plant growth promoting rhizobacteria.
“It improves phosphate absorption by the plant and has been proven in trials to increase both root mass and final crop yield.
An added benefit is that because Starcover is a biological, it is safe to use without the need for additional safety precautions required for Korit or mesurol.”