The Maize Crop Watch series guides farmers to the best return on investment when growing maize. It will focus on maximising yields of quality feed through correct variety choice, optimal harvesting, careful storage in the clamp and management at feed out.
Making the right decisions about variety, drilling date, when to harvest and choice of inoculant are critical to ensure the best possible return on investment when growing maize.
Growing one hectare (2.5 acres) of maize can cost on average £750 and the difference between a good crop and a poor one can equate to four tonnes of dry matter (DM) per ha (1.6t DM/acre).
This is according to Tim Richmond, LG’s maize manager for the UK and Ireland.
He uses the example of a typical 200-cow herd where each animal is fed 10kg DM of maize in the ration each day, meaning 24ha (59 acres) of maize will be grown to meet this requirement.
He says: “Poor decision-making when growing and ensiling a maize crop can cost more than £3,000/ha per year in lost revenue.
Often, it is down to something as simple as picking a cheap seed variety rather than more progressive genetics.
“Modern, early maturing varieties, such as Prospect, are very high yielding and offer excellent feed quality, meaning they perform extremely well even in challenging years, such as this one.
“Early maturing varieties exhibit strong early vigour so plants grow away more quickly and roots are established rapidly.
“This allows the crop to thrive during the drought conditions we saw this spring as the rooting depth allows plants to access moisture.
“It also reduces the threat of bird damage, because plants quickly reach a critical size where they are less vulnerable and, as traditional seed treatments are withdrawn, this becomes more important.” Ensuring maize varieties are suited to the British climate is vital.
Mr Richmond says LG runs seven trial sites around the UK with more than 7,500 trial plots in the ground, evaluating 600 maize varieties to test stability of performance in all conditions.
Results from this year’s trial demonstrate the superb early vigour of early varieties, such as Prospect, Resolute, Trooper and Conclusion, have achieved canopy closure sooner than other older varieties.
This reduces the risks affecting crop performance such as weed colonisation, poor root development and losses due to bird damage.
Mr Richmond says: “Last autumn, we saw how important an early harvest was to achieving good quality feed in the clamp.
For example, Prospect ripens 10 days earlier than average varieties, and 22 days sooner than later maturing ones.
“In 2019, this made the difference between a crop being harvested in optimum conditions, as opposed to after the onset of heavy autumn rains when fields soon became waterlogged.
“These early varieties are a tool to allow the grower to harvest in the right conditions and maximise the genetic potential of the crop.
Our trials show this can mean up to £670 of extra energy per ha of maize, which in turn translates into a greater volume of milk, or improved gas output for anaerobic digestors.
“Put another way, returning to the 200- cow herd we referred to earlier, the farmer opting for Prospect or another of LG’s leading early varieties will need to grow 7ha less of maize than a farmer who chooses an older, late maturing maize seed.” Mr Richmond says to secure these benefits, appropriate management of the crop is required, but he acknowledges most farmers growing maize ‘know what they are doing’.
He says: “Of course, choosing the right site for maize which is ideally south-facing, sheltered and free-draining, then creating the right seedbed to enable good seed to soil contact is essential.
Choosing the appropriate drilling date for the location is very important and this year showed the importance of not drilling too soon.
“After a warm, dry April, May started with a very cold spell.
Some crops sown in April established slowly, so were exposed to bird populations for a period before warm weather hastened growth.”
Steve Hobbs of Endslee Farm, near Bude, Cornwall, has an all-year-round calving 250-cow herd.
He has been growing maize since 1993 and now grows LG Ambition.
He says the variety is well suited to their dry, light land and it has performed exceptionally well so far this year.
“We chose LG Ambition because it is early maturing and demonstrates resistance to eyespot, strong standing ability and early vigour.
“Growing a maize crop represents a huge investment in terms of time and money, so we need a variety we know will perform well on this farm.
We typically achieve yields of about 37t/ha.
“Making good maize silage is a labour-intensive process and in our warm, wet climate, it is a challenge to prevent aerobic spoilage.
“We use Magniva Platinum Maize inoculant to ensure better aerobic stability when the clamp is opened, so reducing wastage and heating and mean we have more of the crop to feed.
“We feed 7kg of maize in the ration and find it provides an energy-rich feed.
Our Holstein cows have a huge demand for energy and maize forms a vital component of the ration.”
Roy Eastlake, national technical manager with Lallemand Animal Nutrition, highlights the pivotal role high quality forage plays in profitable dairying.
He cites a possible doubling in profitability of an enterprise which can be achieved by increasing forage utilisation.
He says: “Farmers will make every effort to grow the best maize crop they can, so it is essential to ensure it is managed, stored and fed out correctly to give the maximum return.
“On average, DM losses from when a maize crop is clamped to feeding out are 15 per cent, and this is in part due to poor management.
“Many of these losses are avoidable if the maize is stored and covered correctly and the face managed to prevent aerobic spoilage.
“The use of an inoculant helps to encourage appropriate fermentation processes within the clamp and will help to significantly reduce DM losses caused by aerobic instability.
“This will aid the production of a high quality feed with increased, consistent nutrient content and will promote higher intakes across the herd.
“A maize crop which has been managed well will make a significant contribution to the profitability of any enterprise.
Growing costs are essentially fixed across most units, so achieving the maximum return on investment is entirely down to how the farmer manages the production process from start to finish.”
Morris Davies farms less than a mile from the coast just north of Cardigan, West Wales, where he has an all-yearround calving herd.
Mr Davies started growing Reason, Gema and Prospect last year, initially under plastic, but this year he is growing about 16ha (40 acres) conventionally and a further 12ha (30 acres) under plastic.
He says: “It has been a very windy, dry summer here, so the maize grown conventionally struggled at first.
The pre-emergent herbicide did not work as expected, but the rain came just in the nick of time and the maize is looking much better now.
We now feed 10kg of maize in the total mixed ration, along with wholecrop and grass silage and, since introducing maize into the ration in autumn, we have seen a noticeable increase in milk yield across the herd over winter.
There has also been a significant improvement in the conception rate since last October.
“We have selected early maturing varieties because we want to be able to harvest maize as early as possible, but we also need the yield.
“Last year we achieved an average yield of 34.5t/ha and we are hoping for similar this year.”