This years’ maize harvest has been one of mixed fortunes and, for many, yields have been erratic with unpredictable quality. So what can farmers do to improve on 2006 quality?
Being able to grow a consistent crop was essential, managing director of Field Options, Francis Dunne told a CPB Twyford press briefing.
“It is more important to grow a crop that will yield and perform year after year, site after site. With a typical range of 14-24t, growing maize can either be economically worthwhile or expensive.
“We calculated the cost of producing maize to be in the region of £256.50/acre. At the bottom of the scale, when producers are achieving 14t/acre cost of production jumps to £65/t of dry matter. This, when compared to £38/t for 24t/acre, is a drastic difference.”
Compaction was still one of the largest areas for improvement, added Mr Dunne. “Anything that impedes root growth will result in reduced plant establishment and even small areas of compaction can reduce overall yields by 5t/acre.
“Accurate timing of field applications is essential, particularly when ploughing, as when soil is in its plastic stage this will cause smearing and pan formation, inhibiting root growth.”
Variety choice should be determined by suitability to the farm conditions and not the best results on tables. “Growing several varieties together results in more stable yields and allows flexibility in terms of harvest dates.”
And while post-emergence spraying was advisable, reliance of livestock farmers on contractors meant optimum spraying date was not always achieved. Applying both pre- and post-emergence applications, although more expensive, targeted a higher proportion of weeds.
With changes in the sugar beet industry, getting hold of an inter-row cultivator may be a good idea, advised Brendan Paul, Dalgety Masstock livestock adviser. “This does the job in terms of weeding, but also aerates the soil, which, in seasons like 2006, encourages moisture retention in the soil.”
Advising farmers to consider raising seed rates and narrowing rows, Mr Paul warned of the effects of inaccurate calibration and drilling on quality and yield. “Upping seed rate by 1000 seeds can cost about £1.25, whereas loss in yield value could be £8/t, taking into account dry matter and energy contents.”