UK beef and dairy producers are growing and including more maize in rations, according to a recent survey, which also indicates that growers are keen to explore alternative arrangements to satisfy demand.

Covering more than 70,000 beef and dairy animals across the UK, the survey – conducted by the MGA, BGS and Grainseed UK – indicates the total maize area grown has increased from 15,892 acres in 2004 to 19,510 acres in 2007. Furthermore, one in three maize growers would grow more if they had the chance.

Rationale behind the rise in area centred on increasing profitability by becoming more feed self-sufficient. Increased stock numbers and more maize fed in the diet were also among the factors, says Grainseed’s Neil Groom.

Nearly 60% of beef and dairy producers reckoned high energy yields in maize diets were a priority and the ability to finish stock was also highlighted as a positive attribute of the crop.

Recognising the value of maize as a profitable, high energy feed, mixed arable and dairy unit Kemble Farms, Gloucestershire, increased acreage several years ago to 120ha, says farm manager David Ball. “Balanced with grass and whole-crop silage, maize makes up 60% of the current ration due to both its feeding and agronomic attributes.”

Future priorities

  • Maize acreage increasing
  • Possible forage partnerships
  • Grain maize interest growing

The survey goes on to outline future priorities of those questioned. More than a third of dairy producers place cutting production costs at the top of their list, while a further 28% see producing more milk as a priority, says Mr Groom. “For beef farmers, decreasing finishing times and improving conformation were the two key answers when asked to determine reasons to maximise quantity and quality of maize.”

In addition, more than half of those growing maize would grow more if they had the land, according to the survey, and 35% of all those asked would be willing to have another producer grow it for them, indicating the possibility for forage partnerships.

“Historically, maize trading has been limited by haulage costs. But, with grain maize availability and acreage increasing, trading is now more viable, with growers in the south east growing and trading the concentrate equivalent to producers in Wales and Scotland.”

The area of grain maize is of rising interest for many growers, with more than 75% admitting they do not know enough about the crop. “The main factor concerning maize growers thinking of growing grain maize is harvest date, both in terms of onward cropping and soil damage. But, realistically, the pressures of harvesting grain maize are less than that of silaging, be it a little later in October and November.

“The matt of material which is left allows some soil protection, and there are no trailers travelling across fields, only the combine, with trailers left on the headland,” adds Mr Groom.

Coupled with management considerations, including grain maize in the diet improves rumen function, says Kent dairy producer and grower William Hickson. “Grain maize not only provides high energy levels, but a proportion of bypass starch, which provides slow release energy, driving both milk protein and yields.”

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