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Reaping the benefits of undersown maize

Undersowing maize with grass is gaining popularity among farmers wanting to avoid bare overwintered stubbles.

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Undersown maize stubble (left) suffered less harvest damage
Undersown maize stubble (left) suffered less harvest damage
Reaping the benefits of undersown maize

Establishing grass in maize to leave a ready-made green cover after harvest is proving an effective and reliable technique to help improve the resilience of over-wintered stubble fields.

Cheshire-based Agrovista agronomist Phil Campion says the practice delivers a range of benefits, including improved soil structure, reductions in soil erosion and nutrient leaching, as well as extra grazing and easier management of slurry and digestate applications.

It could also help growers combat a probable tightening of legislation concerning leaving bare maize stubbles over winter.

Phil says: “The technique is growing in popularity.

With the right management it is perfectly feasible to grow a successful grass crop without affecting the maize.” The unusually wet autumn and winter provided a stern test for the system, but it has worked well, he adds.

“Bare maize stubbles are tight and look lifeless.

I’ve seen a lot of badly damaged fields that will take some rectifying.

Undersown fields will be in much better condition for spring operations.”


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Grass establishing well after sowing at six-leaf stage of maize
Grass establishing well after sowing at six-leaf stage of maize

Grass undersowing

  • Sow with maize or at six-leaf stage
  • Soil Max (Advanced tall fescue and tall fescue) for drilling with maize; Enviro Max (late perennial ryegrass and Advanced tall fescue) at six-leaf stage
  • Seed rate – 10-12kg/ha
  • Drilled in three rows between maize rows
  • Provides extra grazing

Friable soils

 

One of Phil’s customers, Tom Fowles, started undersowing maize three years ago to help improve tight, low organic matter soils which were locking up minerals.

Tom, who milks 200 Holstein Friesians/Danish Reds at Higher Mickledale Farm, Cheshire, says: “All muck is slurry-based and we weren’t returning enough fibre to our light soils.

“I’d heard about undersowing maize and I liked the sound of it.

We also needed a new drill, so I bought a Pottinger maize drill that sows three bands of grass between the maize rows, which I now use for contracting.” The farm is also in a Catchment Sensitive Area and qualifies for a grant.

Tom says: “It’s not huge but it covers the cost of the seed.

“I’m also concerned we could soon face a ban on overwintered bare stubbles.

This is the way forward.” All of Tom’s 32ha of maize is now undersown.

“We’ve not seen any yield penalty from sowing grass at the same time as the maize. The technique is definitely paying off.

 

“The soil is more friable and there’s more life in it. After the first year worm numbers increased. Fields also carry machinery much better at harvest.

“Soils are holding more nutrients over winter so we hope to make savings there. The grass also provides useful overwintering for youngstock.

We save the cost of housing them and they are not knee-deep in mud.” Paul Robinson reckons maize yields have increased on the medium to heavy soils at Woodhey Hall, near Nantwich, Cheshire, following the decision to undersow grass two years ago.

“Where we had grown grass the previous year the crop was definitely better,” says Paul, who runs a 700-strong herd of Holstein Friesians averaging 12,000 litres.

He undersows about 10% of his 130ha of maize. A contractor sows the grass in June, covering 3-4ha an hour, when the maize is knee high.

“We grow early and ultra-early maize varieties and aim for 35% DM and 35% starch. We don’t want anything to check the crop so we establish the grass quite late.

“We’ve hosted Agrovista trials and this technique works best for us.

We’ve established grass in a very dry year and a very wet one and we’ve had good results.” He intends to increase the undersown area this season.

“We are in an NVZ and undersown maize counts as a grass field, which has helped muck management.

“We’ve also reduced run-off and the grass is capturing nutrients. Most importantly, our soil structure has improved where we’ve undersown.

“I think we’ll find it has left the soil in a lot better condition when we come to replant this spring. The technique ticks a lot of boxes.”

Key benefits

  • Improves soil structure
  • Reduces soil erosion
  • Helps retain nutrients
  • Increases flexibility of organic matter applications
  • Provides extra grazing

Brought to you by Agrovista

Brought to you by Agrovista

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