As spring approaches, Limagrain discusses what maize growers should be considering to ensure their crops have the best chance of success.
After a dreadful autumn where many acres of maize crops were still standing in the field into November and December, many growers will be thinking how they can limit the risk of a similar scenario developing in 2020.
Assessing how the risks associated with growing a maize crop can best be averted is a good place to start.
This is according to Tim Richmond, maize manager for Limagrain, who points to the end goal of producing a high quality maize silage enabling dairy farmers to produce more milk from forage and save on purchased feed costs.
Mr Richmond urges growers to select early maturing varieties as the best strategy for ensuring a high quality crop is harvested in a timely fashion.
Newer early varieties, such as Pinnacle, Prospect and Reason, mature on average two weeks before other traditional varieties and there is no yield penalty.
He says: “Last autumn demonstrated the importance of early maturing maize varieties and the benefits they bring.
These varieties are mature and typically ready for harvesting at the end of September.
Last year, this meant they were ready to be taken off the field at the optimum time, in good condition, to produce high quality silage which ensiled quickly.
“Two weeks can make an enormous difference in autumn and, as our climate seems to be changing and wetter autumns appear to be the norm, growing late maturing varieties is increasingly risky.
“There is no yield penalty with new early maturing varieties, such as Prospect, which according to independent BSPB/NIAB data, yields 18.6 tonnes/hectare.
“But there is a huge difference in feed quality, because all our LGAN varieties are bred for high cell wall digestibility [CWD], as well as the expected high starch levels.” Limagrain UK has developed the LGAN maize standard, which indicates a maize variety delivers the highest nutritional standards alongside all the expected agronomic advantages.
To identify these elite varieties, Limagrain carried out numerous trials at independent scientific institutes across Europe to measure fibre digestibility and energy content.
Performance Mr Richmond says: “We assess all the varieties included in our breeding programme, with particular reference to their performance in our UK climate, so they must be early maturing but also show good early vigour and be able to cope with variable spring weather.
“A key attribute is CWD, because about 50% of the total energy in a maize plant is in the vegetative portion, meaning it contains as much energy as the cobs.
As the maize plant matures, it contains a higher proportion of less digestible neutral detergent fibre [NDF].
All LGAN varieties have improved CWD, which results in a far higher energy content and a more energy dense feed.
“Because the cell wall of the maize plant’s stem and leaves is more digestible in LGAN varieties, it passes through the rumen more quickly and also provides increased energy per kilo of feed ingested.
“The result is cows can achieve higher dry matter intakes with increased energy content and these higher intakes are critical for high yielding animals.” Ultimately, the goal is to produce more milk for the same feed cost and improving fibre digestibility is proven to help achieve this.
Mr Richmond points to the potential extra 0.17kg increase in total dry matter intakes and 0.25 litres increase in milk yield per cow per day for each percentage point increase in NDF digestibility (Source: Oba and Allan, 1999)
James Fernihough farms in partnership with his father Michael at Deasland Farm, near Bewdley, Worcestershire.
He started growing maize for his dairy herd in the 1980s and it quickly became a mainstay of the system, accounting for half of the home-grown forage.
The cows may have left the holding nine years ago, but maize remains a key part of the system on the 223-hectare (550-acre) farm, because it is the principal forage for the 165 beef stores finished each year.
Consequently, variety choice remains an important business decision each year.
Mr Fernihough applies the same criteria when selecting his maize varieties as he did when growing for his dairy herd, looking for a quality feed combined with an early harvest.
He says: “We need the crop off early for two main reasons.
The first is I want the forage to be available to feed from the day the cattle arrive at our farm.
The second is that, in our rotation, we follow maize with winter wheat, so we have to make sure we are able to establish the wheat in good time.”
Deasland Farm comprises mainly medium to heavy soils, so to give soils sufficient time to warm up, maize is not drilled until the first week of May.
This means the growing season is very short, as the target date for harvesting maize is early October.
Mr Fernihough is a big fan of early maturing varieties which require fewer Ontario HeatUnits (OHUs) to reach maturity.
He says: “I used to always grow a small acreage of a new variety alongside my usual selection, but three years ago, Tony Morris of Wynnstay suggested I try Reason, as it was an early variety with good early vigour, so it would get away quickly.
Vigour “Reason is maturity class 10 [FAO180] with good early vigour making it perfect for short growing seasons.
It combines high dry matter yields with excellent feed quality. “It worked so well that I only grow the one variety now.
This year I will again be drilling 22ha of Reason.
It grows well in the early season and looks strong in the field and it yields good full cobs and excellent forage.”In 2018, he harvested on September 20 and, in 2019, the crop was ready at the end of September, but it was a month before he could harvest it.
Nevertheless, it analysed at 36.9% DM, 11.7MJ ME and with good starch levels at 34.9%, important for beef finishing.
Mr Fernihough says: “Finding a variety which yields well and suits the farm is my target every year, because we need a reliable source of quality forage with minimal risk.”
LGAN grass mixtures are available to UK producers through Limagrain’s Sinclair McGill and Monarch ranges. The latest technical and product handbooks for these two ranges have bene published in March 2019 and are online or in print versions from Emily Short, Limagrain, on 01472 370 117, or firstname.lastname@example.org