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How to earn decent returns from a maize investment

For beef farmers to quantify a tangible return from home-grown maize forage, they need to fully understand feed quality, how it impacts on finishing ration and ultimately the bottom line. Farmers Guardian reports.

(L-R) Wynnstay arable specialist Charlie Dolphin and John Griffiths
(L-R) Wynnstay arable specialist Charlie Dolphin and John Griffiths

John Griffiths, who farms a beef and sheep enterprise on 104 hectares (250 acres) of owned and rented land in Worcestershire, achieved yields of 64.5 tonnes/ha (26t/acre) from his 2016 crop, which is likely to result in bought-in feed savings of up to £105/head.


In the main, last year’s harvest proved to be a bumper year for maize yields, thanks to near-perfect conditions of high temperatures and rainfall throughout the growing season.


But Mr Griffiths has still paid close attention to detail to the crop throughout the season to deliver positive results in terms of feed quality and high yields.


He says: “Maize is grown on marginal land, so we required an early maturing variety which would not compromise on yield.


“We put in 10 acres of a new variety on May 1, in the same fields we have grown maize in for the past five years, and harvested the crop on September 29.


“We did not want nutrition or soil health to hold the crop back, so we soil sampled fields to get a complete picture of nutrient requirements.”

Fertiliser plan

With these results, Mr Griffiths’ Wynnstay arable specialist Charlie Dolphin developed a bespoke fertiliser plan and he explains how the approach has resulted in benefits in the clamp.


Mr Dolphin says: “John is always up for trying something new and is forward thinking in his approach. Some farmers treat maize as they would grassland, but John treats it the same way he would his arable crops.


“The bespoke nutrition plan was based on both technical and practical influences, including using microgranular fertiliser for the 2016 season, as well as applying farmyard manure and urea to the seedbed. We also made sure it was fully subsoiled to reduce compaction at the outset.


“We chose this approach as it produces more readily available fertiliser to the crop and it has helped result in the higher yields John has seen.


“Applying urea in the seedbed is a cost-effective option as it can reduce the amount of nitrogen lost from potential volatilisation, which is often associated with granular urea when it is applied to the surface of the soil.”

Feeding maize

Beef stores are the priority for Mr Griffiths, who finished his cattle indoors on a predominantly maize-based ration.


Last year’s successful crop of new Limagrain variety Reason has meant he has plenty of good quality forage for cattle, so he is beginning to see the investment pay off.


Steers and heifers are bought-in at 475kg and 425kg liveweight and fed over a 150-day finishing period on a diet consisting of 5kg of baled silage. This is alongside a ration of 85 per cent maize and 15 per cent rolled cereals at 20kg/head, including a protein and mineral supplement.


Cattle are then sold deadweight to ABP, targeting R and U carcase grades.


Iwan Vaughan, Wynnstay dairy specialist, who analysed Mr Griffiths 2016 silage sample, says: “Nutritionally, maize is the perfect forage to finish beef cattle on, due to its high starch and fermentable energy content.


“When looking at a maize analysis, dry matter [DM] content should be between 30 and 35 per cent, with starch above 30 per cent and ME at 11.5 MJ/kg.


“The better the analysis, the more cost-effective it is as a feed source, as it reduces the need for expensive bought-in supplementary feeds.


“There have been a lot of good quality maize crops grown this year. However, what stands out in John’s sample is the ME value of 12.0 MJ/kg and starch degradability of 81.5 per cent, which is above average.


“Starch degradability is very important when it comes to feed value, as it shows how much can potentially be used by the rumen.


“The yield of 26t/acre was impressive, as it produced the equivalent starch yield as 4.5t/acre of wheat, along with a bulk of digestible high energy fibre. Feeding maize dramatically reduces the acid load and risk of acidosis you see with a high cereal-based diet, as it is slower fermenting in the rumen.”


Mr Vaughan says the high yield produced has enabled them to feed a predominantly home-grown ration.


He says: “To replace the nutrition provided by the home-grown maize, John would need to buy-in the equivalent with 6.5kg of bought-in concentrates per head per day for the finishing period.


“So, the investment in producing quality home-grown maize forage which can make up most of the ration is resulting in a net gain and saving of 70p/head/day.


“The diet in total is producing sufficient DM, starch and protein content to achieve an average daily liveweight gain of 1.5kg, which, with the right genetics, should mean cattle are on track to hit target carcase grades.”


Beef stores are the priority and are finished indoors on a predominantly maize-based ration.

"Genetically we did not have much control, so it was vital we chose the best maize variety" - John Griffiths


Mr Griffiths says with feed being the main input, savings to ration costs can make a major difference to the bottom line.


He says: “Recently, maize has been the main inclusion in our finisher diet, which has resulted in 85-90 per cent of our cattle achieving R and U grade carcases.


“This year, we started to buy-in cattle, therefore genetically we did not have as much control, so it was vital we chose the best maize variety last season and made sure we had a top notch quality feed source.”


Mr Griffiths believes the hard work throughout the season and attention to detail will definitely pay off.


“Understanding the feed quality of the maize as a major component of the ration makes a big difference and ensures I can see a return from the investment into growing the crop.


“By approaching my maize crop as I would any other arable crops, it is ensuring we realise the crop’s full potential on our land, which, in turn, will positively impact our cattle margins.


“With beef cattle and maize, it is more of a long-term gain. I am seeing better carcase grades at slaughter, which are improving each year.


“Hopefully, the high value forage we have produced in 2016 will help us continue to improve in 2017.”


Assuming a cost of £200/t for bought in concentrates resulting in an extra cost of £1.30/day. Minus the cost of growing maize at around £35/t which equates to £0.6/day results in a net gain of £0.7/head/day.

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