The short harvesting window predicted widely will put pressure on contractors, with some farmers expected to be left with as little as one week, in which to gather their crops. Therefore, KWS’s John Burgess says contractors should be booked at the earliest opportunity and chop length may need to be reassessed.
“Most maize will be higher in dry matter, compared with other years, so chop lengths for silages intended for ruminants should be shorter than usual,” says Mr Burgess. “This technique will maximise its nutritional availability in the rumen.
“On dairy units, where chop length has historically been around 15-20mm, the crop will benefit from being cut at 12-15mm, to improve rumen access to starch and fibre. The recommendation for crops grown for biogas is around 8-10mm.”
Mr Burgess says early harvest dates are anticipated right across Europe this year. He has recently returned from a trip to look at maize in Scandinavia, which is usually harvested in mid-October at the earliest. This year most crops are already in the clamp, he says.
Mike Corp of ProCam South West praises plant breeders for the progress they have made on producing earlies and ultra-early varieties with the high level of performance previously associated with later maturing types. His clients have had a good growing year, with a slight dip in heat units during August their only complaint.
“Some of the most recent earlies and ultra-earlies will not just produce better quality feed values but will also match, or even out-yield, other varieties on the market. They have become more dependable and have taken a higher percentage of the market share in recent times, with good reason,” he says.
“Earlier varieties allow an earlier harvest window and are generally better placed to cope, in a year when growing conditions prove challenging. The ultra-early Augustus stands out this season; it has rapid early vigour, with good yield potential and an FAO of 160.”
Mr Corp also gives credit to livestock producers, who are increasingly treating their maize crops in the same way as arable farmers, he observes.
“Arable farmers are used to the concept of spending money on inputs, in order to get a return on their investment. Maize growers are starting to think along similar lines and are realising attention to detail throughout the growing season will pay dividends. Taking preventative measures to guard against eyespot is becoming the norm, for example.
“Maize is an excellent feed, but it does require careful management, to get the best out of it. The number one enemy of a growing crop is weed competition, so a pre-emergence herbicide is recommended in virtually every situation. Pre-emergence sprays were used widely and worked so well this year many suppliers have large volumes of post-emergence products left in storage.”
Herbicide efficacy is closely linked to seedbed preparation, he adds.
“Maize requires a fine seedbed which has a degree of moisture. A pre-emergence spray on to a cloddy surface, with fewer contact points, will reduce the chemical’s ability to stick to the soil particles. This, in turn, will limit the opportunity for the product to come into contact with emerging weeds.”
Growers are learning it’s not just about producing a tall crop which has plenty of green matter and looks healthy, he says.
“Quality counts and all maize for livestock should be grown with the aim of achieving high dry matters and good ME and starch yields.
These targets can only be reached if the cob is allowed to fulfil its potential. There is no point in growing a particular variety, if it does not
have traits which allow it to match this standard.
“A good maize silage will keep the feed wagon from making frequent trips to the farm. Cereal prices have fallen, but keeping down costs of production continues to have a significant effect on business profitability.”
He stresses the importance of long-term thinking, when it comes to choosing a variety.
“Varietal selection should be based on a three to four year historical average of weather, rather than simply taking into account the way a certain variety performed the previous year.”
Sheila Griffiths-Jones of Bibby Agriculture concurs with the view maize has performed well this year. Her advice for crops which are likely to exceed target dry matter levels is to use an inoculant additive; preferably a product containing two strains of bacteria. As well as making the material easier to compact after harvest, this treatment will reduce the pH of the crop rapidly. Inoculants can help to prevent spoilage on the clamp face caused by air pockets fuelling secondary fermentation and moulding.
It is widely acknowledged including more than one type of forage in cattle diets produces better results, she points out. She considers maize silage one of the best feeds for ruminants and says it will make a valuable contribution to any winter cattle formulation this winter.
“Grass silages have tended to be variable in quality, with some first cuts acidic and low in dry matter. Due to a patch of bad weather in most regions which delayed cutting, many crops will also contain material which was over mature at harvest.
“These combined factors have had a negative effect on ME and some analyses show figures as low as 9.7. As a stand-alone ration, this is barely enough to maintain the cow and yields are bound to suffer. Adding maize silage at 12-13 ME will go a long way to boosting the density of the ration and maximising yield potential. It will also open up a mix containing a low dry matter grass silage, when it is fed out to cows,” says Mrs Griffiths-Jones.