Grain maize is a promising arable break, especially now the single payment has eliminated crop support distortions.

So says Troy Stuart, who grew twice as much this season as last, having started with a 12ha (30-acre) trial three years ago.

But with nearly 384ha (950 acres) on his own farm at Clyst St Mary, near Exeter, and on a dozen others for which he contracts, he hopes the recent break in the open autumn is only temporary.

“We’ve had ideal conditions until recently which have really suited our min-till system – although slugs have been worse than ever,” he says.

The first stab at cutting this season’s maize, with a tracked Claas Lexion 580 fitted with a snapper header, on 5 Oct proved too hasty.

“We did about 30 acres, but while it combined OK and the moisture was fine, it just wasn’t fit. Not all the grains had matured.”

But given a reasonably dry spell, Mr Stuart hopes all will be gathered safely by the end of November.

Last year’s crop, averaging about 8.6t/ha (3.5t/acre) dried to 15% moisture, was encouraging enough to tempt several more farmers in the area to try it this time round.

“I have 12 growing it this year – we had six last season,” he says.

“There’s a ready market for it as a high-value feed for dairy cows and corn-fed chickens locally.”

Its non-GM, home-grown image is particularly attractive to producers, he adds.

“We have to accept that it will be high moisture – about 30% – when we cut.

So it’s expensive to dry – I budget on 30/t.” But at a price of 95/t and low growing costs, the gross margin should at least match that of feed winter wheat, he calculates (see table).

However, this year’s yields may not be quite up to those of 2004.

“We drilled from the end of April, but the crop was then checked by a cold, dry snap and it looks a bit mixed.”

Having tried several early-maturing varieties last year, he plumped for just two this time – Baltis and Tomahawk. “We don’t want anything too tall,” he says.

andrew.blake@rbi.co.uk