Paying attention to seedbeds and crop establishment can have a significant effect on both yield and feeding quality of maize.
Good seedbed preparation and effective early weed control can affect final maize yields by up to 30 per cent, says Wilson Hendry of Grainseed.
He says: “As well as helping crops get away strongly which is essential for high yields, a good even tilth helps all plants achieve the same growth stage at the same time which subsequently results in even maturity at harvest and better, more consistent feeding quality.
“Maize plants are also very susceptible to competition from weeds in the first six weeks of growth so keeping these under control is essential, too.”
Understanding individual soil type is the starting point, he says.
“It’s been a mild winter and despite the relatively cold start to spring, soil temperatures are pretty much where they should be for the time of year and drilling in the south and East Anglia is pretty much imminent.
“For most growers there’s still time to make some important decisions that can make all the difference.”
Mr Hendry says: “If you’re on lighter soils you can get away with less cultivation but in most situations you should aim for no more than two passes to get the right seedbed conditions.
“There are still some legacy issues regarding compaction from the cold wet winters previous to this one and now is the last chance to deal with these.
“Fewer passes mean less wheelings and less potential compaction but there’s also the additional cost in terms of time and fuel if you have to go over land more than twice.”
Provided your soil structure is good, using tines and discs on sandy loams is preferable to ploughing.
“On heavier land, winter ploughing is always preferable as this lets the weather do some of the work for you. Going over this with a set of discs and then a power harrow before drilling should be all that’s needed.
“If there’s still some compaction and you didn’t manage to use the window a few weeks ago to flat lift don’t be afraid to do it now even if it’s on land that has already been ploughed. The benefits will always be worth it.”
Addressing any soil acidity is also an important prerequisite for good maize crops, Mr Hendry advises: “If soil pH is too low you will need to use lime to correct this and if you haven’t managed to put on the full amount of nutrients required for the crop from FYM and slurry this too now needs correcting with bagged fertiliser. If there is any soil moisture at all after drilling, a pre-emergence herbicide is always a good idea.
“Pre-emergence weed control is a great start to the program as weeds really need controlling well in the first six weeks after drilling so the maize plants can grow as vigorously as possible, he says.
With predominantly thin chalky topsoils and some fairly exposed slopes, field selection and seedbed preparation are key decisions for James Coverdale of the Biddesden House Farm Partnership in Wiltshire.
He says: “We try and keep our cultivations fairly simple so as not to damage the structure of the soil too much.
“We use a lot of FYM and this is ploughed in before the maize is drilled but we don’t use any power harrows or carry out any subsoiling.”
Despite having a fairly southern location, land rises to 110m above sea level and with energy yield being the goal, group 8 - 9 varieties tend be the ones that work best, Mr Coverdale says.
“Our first crop of ES Bodyguard last year achieved 16.3t/ha DM - around 10 per cent more than the whole farm average in what was a very high output year anyway.”
Quality was high too with an ME of 11.9MJ/kgDM and a starch content of 30.1 per cent.
“The crop was harvested at around 35 per cent DM so if the yield is corrected to 30 per cent DM that 16.3t/ha DM yield would be approaching 19t/ha DM which is exceptional for here.”
The crop was drilled quite late on the 30th April at 107,000 seeds/ha on north facing land with 125kg/ha of DAP fertiliser which with the FYM gave a total of 128kgN/ha, Mr Coverdale says.
Good seedbed preparation and matching variety to conditions gave Norwich-based beef producer and contractor Paul Gunther his best crop of maize ever last year. Digestibility and energy content were exceptional, too, he says.
“At one point the variety Hobbit was standing nearly nine feet tall whilst other neighbouring crops were not much over five feet in height,” he says.
The crop produced yields of around 20t/acre freshweight with a drymatter of 30.8 per cent, an ME of 11.6 mJ/Kg DM and a D-value of 71.
According to Agrovista agronomist Craig Green, the results were achieved without high levels of inputs.
Half-rate DAP fertiliser at 60kg/ha plus FYM with a top up of Double top fertiliser to the RB209 recommended rate of Nitrogen was used.
He says: “The crop was drilled on the 22nd April following ploughing, pressing and running a crumbler over the land and the plants emerged in under a week through the pre-emergence herbicide treatment.”