Developing environmentally sustainable farming systems was the theme running through the Maize Growers Association conference held near Derby.
Introducing the conference, the Maize Growers Association chairman, John Jackson, farms manager for Severn Trent Water, said it had been the most challenging maize growing season for 30 years with, for some, the harvest only just finishing.
But he warned that similar weather may come again and valuable lessons have been learned.
He said: “The season started well with the crop doing well but the wettest autumn on record took its toll with many fields stood in water and where I farm in Nottinghamshire was particularly hard hit.
This impacted on both dry matter and yield and presented harvesting challenges so we had to think outside the box. Our harvest lasted 12 weeks rather than the usual seven and cost £50,000 more.
“Normally, we are aiming to harvest the maize at 32 per cent dry matter, but it was not possible in many case this year. We combined 80 hectares for grain finally finishing at the beginning of February.
"Going forward, grain or crimped maize is likely to become more of an option.
“Retaining soil structure is key, particularly as 60 per cent of the crop I grow is on other people’s land. We had to look at more innovative ways of both harvesting and loading by using tracks and dual wheel on foragers.
"We also tried to minimise the number of machines going into fields by using 360-degree loaders to tip maize into trailers parked in lay-bys on roads adjacent to the fields.
“Keeping roads clean was also a major issue, so we started washing down and cleaning all equipment in the field before going onto roads. It is important, that as maize growers, we are being seen to implement best practice.”
Measuring crude protein levels in maize silage can be used as a means of establishing the minimum amount of nitrogen (N) needed, according to the president of the German Maize committee, Professor Friedhelm Taube, Kiel University.
He said: “The challenge is to be more eco-efficient, reduce pollution issues and produce more from less.
“Nitrogen balance is key to this. Many growers are using too much nitrogen because they do not take into account the nitrogen in slurry.
“Maize is not generally needed as a source of protein in feed so high levels are not necessary. Nitrogen fertiliser can be reduced without impacting on yield.
Research in Germany has shown that maize silage with an analysis of 6.5-7 per cent crude protein will have the optimum N balance. If the level is more than 7.2 per cent it will result in more leaching.
If crude protein levels are 7-7.5 per cent N input can be reduced by 20kg/ha, if 7.5-8 per cent by 40kg/ha and if 8-8.5 per cent by 60kg/ha leading to big cost savings.”