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Five vital factors to getting good maize


Latest research suggests that following five simple steps can make maize a consistent performer despite increasingly variable growing conditions, says forage specialist Grainseed.

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Five factors you need to consider when growing good maize #teamdairy

Dairy farmers can have short memories when it comes to the performance of their forages, says Grainseed technical director Neil Groom.


“It was not long ago producers were reporting record crops of up to 25% more than in previous years with many looking for advice on how to store and feed the surplus.


“Last year wasn’t so kind, with a relatively cold growing season delaying harvest but, on the whole, yields are similar to the long-term average and the feeding quality is there.” But as recent years have shown, more variable climatic conditions are becoming the norm in the UK, he says.


“We were about 10% down on heat units through the 2015 growing season which slowed crop growth considerably, and we then had the third warmest November since 1910, followed by record temperatures in December.


“It is becoming apparent Maize is still the most economic source of energy, says Neil Groom. we have to start thinking differently about what we grow and how we grow it if we are to produce reliable supplies of high energy feeds in the future.”


In terms of cost of energy production, maize is still the most economic and reliable source of energy, despite the more variable growing conditions experienced, with a tonne of dry matter costing nearly 10% less than grass silage, he says.

Challenging sites

“Results from our 50 UK trials sites suggest energy yields from maize range from 120,000 MJ/ha on challenging sites to over 250,000 MJ/ha for high yielding varieties such as Hobbit and Cathy grown on good sites.


“Values of maize energy produced on the same land typically vary by about 30% from around 170,000 MJ/ha to 220,000 MJ/ha which, with each litre of milk requiring 5.4 MJ of energy to produce, equates to milk production potentials of 31,000 litres/ha to 41,000 litres/ha respectively,” he says. (See table, p50).


Achieving that extra 10,000 litres/ha is down mainly to standards of management, he says. The latest work carried out by Grainseed suggests variability in production can be largely eradicated by focusing on five key management areas.



UK energy yields and milk potential (Grainseed trials 2012-2015)

Output Energy Milk production (litres/ha)
Low 120,000 22,000
Typical range 170,000-220,000 31,000-41,000
High 250,000 46,000

1. Seedbeds

  • Taking a more agronomic approach to the crop, particularly with regard to seedbed preparation which will always pay dividends, Mr Groom says.

“If you grow maize in the same location each year, you’re going to get increasingly costly weed build up, so the ideal situation is to rotate maize around the farm.”

Making sure soil pH is between 6.5 and 7.0 can have a significant yield benefit as can removing any compaction.


“A maize plant needs to put down as much depth in roots as there is growth above the ground so any soil compaction must be addressed.


“Pre-emergence weed control is essential in the first six weeks to ensure maize plants can grow as vigorously as possible. A weed is too big if it has more than two true leaves.”

2. Grow earlier varieties

  • Choosing the right variety to deliver the starch yield in a potentially wide range of different growing conditions is key, Mr Groom says.

“Regardless of where you are, the key requirement is for the chosen variety to reach full maturity with maximum starch production rather than reaching the target dry matter through dry down after plant death.


“Field yield is less important than aiming for 30% starch content and 30% dry matter, and if you choose a variety one maturity group above where you normally would in terms of maturity you have a far greater chance of achieving this in most years.


“The best scenario is always a green plant with a mature cob at harvest and this is a better target to focus on rather than dry matter alone.”

3. Revisit plastic

  • Considering whether to drill crops under plastic is an exercise many maize growers would benefit from, even if they are in a fairly southerly location, he says.

“Plastic can often benefit growers who might not consider their location needs it – especially if they are quite far south but on higher or more exposed land.


“The plastic warms the soil typically by around 5- 8degC and as maize germinates at 10degC, the warmer the soil the faster the seedling grows.


“Trials at SRUC Crichton Royal also showed the variety Marco grown under plastic could result in crop harvest up to one month earlier than usual, opening up a range of autumn drilling options.”

4. Frontload nutrition

  • The first six weeks of a maize plant’s life are critical and it must have all the nutrients it needs in this period, he says.

“Get FYM and slurry tested and make a fertiliser plan based on facts rather than assumptions.


“It is better to spread slurry on top of ploughed land and use a cultivator to work it into the top four inches, rather than apply it on bare land and then plough it down. That way the nutrients are in the same soil layer as the seed rather than buried some 12 inches below ground.


“Placement fertiliser down the drill spout is also a good idea since it supplies nitrogen and phosphate to the seedling which is important for early growth. Maxi Maize has protected phosphate.


“FYM nutrients are only available later in the season and phosphate does not move in the soil, so you have to put it right next to the seed for the plant to benefit from it.”

5. Harvest management

  • Quality of forage can be influenced significantly by the harvest process and how material is clamped.

“Around 20mm is the optimum chop length for ruminants but this longer cut means you will also have to think more carefully about achieving optimum compaction in the clamp.


“It is worth running a tractor on top of the clamp ‘across the grain’ and you should have 25% of the weight of material entering the clamp as steel compacting the material on top. If you have 100t/hour of silage coming in, you should have 25 tonne of tractors on top.


“It is also worth reverting to a shorter chop for the last 100 tonnes to help sealing.”

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