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Maize Matters: 2015 growing season proving about average

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Maize Matters is a sponsored series brought to you in association with KWS.

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The latest article in our Maize Matters series offers expert opinion on harvest prospects for the coming season, as well as varietal advice and a round-up of maize-growing trends.

 

It will be obvious to growers the 2015 harvest is not likely to see the bumper yields achieved last year, but John Burgess of KWS says the ground has warmed up after the cold start and crops are progressing well. The heat unit threshold has already been exceeded in some parts of southern England, but he urges caution.

 

“In theory, it could be considered that the crop is ready to harvest once the heat unit average has been reached. But this does not take into account the low temperatures we experienced in early spring.

 

“As with many aspects of farming, a lot depends on what the producer is seeing in front of him and while figures are important, growers should base their decision on the knowledge and experience they have acquired over the years.

 

“Harvest will probably begin two to three weeks later than last year, with ultra-early and early varieties ripening in late September and standard crops ready at the beginning of October.”

 

Ultra-early and early varieties are mainly being used by dairy farmers who are keen to have the ensiled crop ready to feed-out in the run-up to Christmas, he adds.

 

“Opting for a variety in the 150-160 FAO range should bring harvest forward, as well as offering an increase in yield potential. It is especially useful in a year like this, with low temperatures at the start of the season.”

 

Graham Ragg of Mole Valley Agriculture expects yields to be down by as much as 15-20 per cent, compared with last year, but advises growers to adopt a long-term perspective.

 

“Last year was exceptional and was always going to be a difficult act to follow,” says Mr Ragg. “At this point, the 2015 growing season is proving to be about av-erage, when considered over the past decade.

 

“The cold spring meant some crops were way behind by mid-June. But the increase in temperature that followed, coupled with intermittent spells of rain, has allowed the maize to catch up and plants are looking pretty good.”

 

Many of his dairy farmer clients are philosophical about the slight dip in yield he has forecast. “In some cases, milk producers still have maize silage carried over from 2014 and the fall in yield will not be dramatic, so there should be plenty in the clamp to carry them through winter.

 


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Maize Matters 2014: Fantastic year for maize – time to plan for 2015 Maize Matters 2014: Fantastic year for maize – time to plan for 2015
Maize Matters 2014: Make timely decisions on crop management Maize Matters 2014: Make timely decisions on crop management

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Feed value

Feed value

“Fortunately, maize is a crop which can be preserved for long periods and remain in good condition. In fact, its feed value will actually improve over time, especially if an oxygen barrier film has been used, in addition to the traditional black plastic sheeting.”

 

When it comes to dry matter, he recommends in general, growers should aim for about 33 per cent, with a similar figure for starch.

 

“In my observation, farmers have become much better at being patient and waiting for crops to reach optimum dry matter and starch content, before going ahead with harvest. It is much better to hold off, if possible, be-cause an ensiled crop which is carrying too much water will have a lower feed value.”

 

Plant breeders have made great strides in developing varieties to suit the market, he says.

 

“As little as a decade ago, early varieties would have been unable to match the yield performance of the later types, but we now have access to earlies with the capability of meeting weight targets.

 

“I used to sell varieties with maturity ratings of six, seven and eight, but demand for this group has fallen and most of my clients want tens, elevens, twelves and thirteens. Ensuring an early harvest is key, where maize is being followed by winter cereals. There is also increased pressure to reduce environmental damage due to soil erosion, so bringing harvest forward to a time of year when soils should be drier is considered preferable.”

 

Everyone, including nutritionists, dairy farmers and advisers, agrees maize silage is a very good feed for dairy cattle, he adds.“It is hard to beat, as a feedstuff which will allow high-yielding herds to realise their genetic merit. It is also a very consistent crop and will generally produce favourable results year after year, as long as it is suited to the growing area and is managed well,” says Mr Ragg.

 

Maize Matters

Maize Matters is a sponsored series brought to you in association with KWS.

Maize under plastic

THE percentage of maize under plastic has remained fairly static and is set to remain so; at present the technique is used on some 4-5 per cent of farms where the crop is grown, reports Mr Burgess.

 

“Plastic comes into its own on units which sow maize primarily for grain,” he says. “It speeds up maturity and buys a few extra weeks of growth before cutting. But it is quite expensive, adding another £150-£200/ha to production costs.

 

“This may be a worthwhile investment, with maize grain priced at £90-£95/tonne crimped and £140/t dried. However, it is more difficult to justify for maize silage, which is only worth £35/t, although plastic can be a big help in a tricky growing year.”

Pests and diseases

MR Ragg, who is based in south west England, notes growers in his region haven't been out with their sprayers, in recent weeks.

 

“Eyespot is a consideration, particularly in southern coastal areas,” he says.

 

“Some farmers have been applying a fungicide, to protect crops against the disease. Even with high ground clearance machinery, this can lead to losses of up to 2 per cent due to sprayer damage, which occurs mainly on the headlands.

 

“However, a serious eye-spot infection can result in 30-40 per cent of the crop being ruined, so on balance, it is better to take preventative action in high-risk areas.

 

“Treatment is being com bined with a foliar application of nitrogen, on fields where crops are not performing well and it is felt additional fertiliser is required, in order to maximise yields.”

 

Mr Burgess warns growers in warmer parts of the country to be on the look-out for signs of the European corn borer, a moth which thrives in protracted hot spells.

 

Yellowish-brown in colour, with a black head, the insect measures about 30mm (1.1in). Infested crops will have holes alongside the leaves, with damage also to stalks, tassels and ears. It lays its eggs on the leaf underside.

 


Maize growing trends

ACCORDING to KWS, the biogas acreage is. biogas acreage is slightly up on last year, having risen from 26,000 hectares (64,247 acres) in 2014 to 30,000ha (74,131 acres). The figure seems unlikely to change significantly, due to the proposed scaling back of the Feed-in Tariff price, which is due to come into force next April.

At its height, an estimated 80-85 per cent of energy crops grown to produce biogas for anaerobic digestion plants were maize.

 

However, the level has been reduced, largely because rye has become more popular and offers an opportunity to spread risk between two different crops.

 

However, the level has been reduced, largely because rye has become more popular and offers an opportunity to spread risk between two different crops.

 

The production of m
aize silage is being left to larger, more specialised growers and contractors, with a number of dairy farmers opting to buy-in supplies. This could have a negative effect on timeliness at harvest. Heated bidding for land for biogas production has already forced some milk pro-ducers who traditionally rented ground for the purpose, to pull out of historical arrangements.

 

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