Climate change gets a lot of bad publicity and, mostly, with good reason. However, there is nothing to stop UK producers tapping into the advantages it has to offer and consider alternative cropping.
Earlier maturing varieties and longer, warmer summers have now made it possible for many farms which would traditionally grow forage maize, particularly in the south, to successfully grow and harvest grain maize.
For dairy producer, William Hickson, who runs 350 pedigree Jerseys, the transition into growing maize for grain was somewhat unplanned.
Having already filled available clamp space with the 2005 maize harvest, he was looking for a way to both store the extra crop and ensure forage stocks for the following season.
“It is difficult to judge in early spring how much maize should be grown,” comments Mr Hickson. “In 2005 we grew 40 acres of forage maize, which turned out to be too much for the clamps and so we had excess to deal with.”
With this extra, they decided to leave the crop until grain stage, meaning harvest was delayed until early December. The crop was then crimped and stored in ag bags. “Added to the feeding quality of crimped maize, which means it can replace wheat in the ration, every tonne more than that needed to fill clamps, released wheat for us to sell.This year this has provided significant additional income.”
Growing grain maize alongside forage varieties is now seen as something of a safety net and provides flexibility in feeding for the Kent producer. “When you have a large number of cows and rely on maintaining milk quality, you simply cannot afford to be short of forage come the following winter. We aim to drill a maize acreage we know we are going to use, but cover our back in terms of producing enough in case of a difficult year, such as last year,” he adds.
Although grain maize has been incorporated into the system for two years, there are still adjustments to be made, according to Mr Hickson. “The first year we experimented with crimping a forage maize variety and we wanted to see what would happen if we replaced a percentage of the acreage with a grain variety. Another factor to be considered was that as forage varieties are usually later to mature, this subsequently delayed drilling date for the next wheat crop.”
Maturing grain variety
Because the farm has light ground, there was little doubt a later maturing grain variety could be grown, without the danger of significant soil damage. “What we found last year was that harvesting a grain maize variety as a forage was not as successful as the reverse, as the crop turned out to be too dry to clamp.”
Alongside securing extra forage, the feeding quality of crimped maize has helped maintain overall milk quality at Winkland Oak Farm. “The herd is housed year round and we rely largely on homegrown forage for most of our ration,” explains Mr Hickson. “We were surprised at the immediate lift in protein when introducing crimped maize to the ration. Proteins climbed steadily from inclusion in the ration in September, rising from 3.7% to 3.86% in three months.
“Rumen function has also been improved due to the addition of by-pass starch to the diet, providing high levels of energy without the risk of acidosis.”
After adapting the ration to find the best mix, Mr Hickson believes feeding a mixture of rolled wheat and crimped maize provides a balanced diet, with the majority being crimped maize.
Growing costs are relatively similar to forage maize and agronomically the crop is no different to grow, apart from the later harvest date, says to contractor and grower, Frans de Boer. By crimping grain maize, drying costs of between £15-20/t can be saved and yields of 13t/ha (5t/acre) freshweight can be achieved.
“Although crimping can be expensive, it will give a better return, particularly when compared to the cost of drying,” he adds. Drying costs work out at about £20/t, which in turn equates to £247/ha (£100/acre), whereas crimping costs are £10/t.
Growing grain maize provides a buffer or margin for error for forage maize stocks, he adds. “Once growers have filled clamps, the rest can be used for crimped maize, making it a viable forage option in the rotation.”