The final article in our KWS-sponsored Maize Matters series for this year reports on the widespread drought which has affected maize crops across the country, especially in the East.
A ‘mixed bag’ is how John Burgess describes the 2017/18 growing season.
He says: “Some anaerobic digester plants in the eastern counties may struggle to find sufficient maize feedstocks this year, but in the West, crops for livestock are looking more promising.
“Growth has been stunted among some earlier varieties, although cob fill has largely been adequate. “However, cob quality has been compromised where the drought was prolonged before flowering and, in extreme cases, cobs have failed to materialise. Overall maize yields are likely to be down on the year; not just in the UK, but across northern Europe.”
Poor grain fill will result in low dry matters, with the risk of acidic silages, and Mr Burgess offers some harvest advice.
He says: “I would recommend cuttingto about 20mm, to limit run-off and reduce the likelihood of poor fermentation. Another option is to use an additive.”
Neil Potts, of Matford Arable System,says most maize in the South West has coped ‘reasonably well’ under drought pressure.
Mr Potts says: “Localised thunder showers were the main source of water for maize crops during May, June and July. Farms which missed out on this rainfall have suffered, with maize showing signs of severe stress. Plants have not pollinated normally and many are missing grain sites.”
It is difficult to pinpoint figures for maize yields at this stage, says Mr Potts, but some farms are likely to achieve fairly normal yields, while others may do little to add to the already depleted stocks of alternative forages, particularly grass. Harvest dates could be up to one month earlier than average, he predicts.
Maize on heavier land did not necessarily fare any better, compared with crops sown on lighter soils.
Mr Potts says: “Heavier soils took longer to dry out and there was only a short window in which to prepare seedbeds, with clay land tending to bake in the hot weather which followed. Some of these seedbeds were cloddy and maize requires a fine tilth to get young plants off to a good start.”
The vital role played by correct drilling depth was underlined this season, he adds. “I would advise drilling to roughly 50mm, and deeper if it is necessary to chase moisture down into soil. Shallow placement may have been caused by setting the drilling speed above optimum levels.”
Jon Myhill (Left), of Future Biogas, grows about 8,000 hectares (19,770 acres) of maize for biogas in Norfolk and surrounding counties, and expects overall yields to be an average of 20 per cent down. He believes there is little which could have been done to mitigate the effects of low rainfall.
Mr Myhill says: “My main observation is that crops on fields which have received large quantities of digestate and other forms of organic manure have coped better with the difficult conditions.
“This year highlighted the importance of drilling maize in early season, so plant roots have greater opportunityto tap into seedbed moisture.
“However, this time the drought struck so early that root structure establishment was compromised in some cases.”
He forecasts harvest will be slightly earlier than usual, saying: “We have crops in the ground ranging from 1.2metres high with no cob, to plants at more than 3m, which appear fairly standard, but are already fully mature. Harvest is going to prove a challenge.”
The KWS maize demonstration site is open until late September, with opportunities to view the breeder’s current commercial varieties, as well as an anaerobic digester plant.
There is also the chance to assess performance at altitude at the nearby St Briavels strip trial field, which sits at 182 metres (600ft) above sea level.
To arrange a visit, please contact your local merchant.