This weekend’s frosts should herald the end of cooler soil temperatures and mean maize growers need to start monitoring ground conditions with a view to commencing sowing.

Maize Growers’ Association agronomist Simon Draper says historically earlier drilled crops have out-yielded their later sown counterparts and enabled more timely harvesting. “But while earlier sown maize is better yielding, growers need to be sure of having soil temperatures consistently above 8C before sowing.

“Once this weekend’s cold weather has passed farmers should place a soil thermometer in maize ground and monitor it daily to check temperatures. The one thing they need to avoid is plants frosting once they’ve emerged.”

To ensure plants get away to a good start he says any land which wasn’t broken up before winter will benefit from sub-soiling to allow deep rooting. “But care is needed to avoid smearing when ground is wet. This will create as many problems as you’re trying to solve by sub-soiling.”

Rising fertiliser prices will also put a focus on crop nutrition, and Mr Draper recommends using manures as the main source of phosphate and potash. “Decent applications before sowing should help plants get off to a good start and supply all their P and K needs.

“Additionally, I have also seen crops benefit from slurry applications once they’ve emerged. Dirty water can also be used to top up nitrogen levels and as a source of irrigation, should conditions dry up later in the year.”

But, he believes that despite a dry February there should be sufficient moisture in soils to get plants away. “The danger will be leaving drilling too late and soil drying out further,” he adds.

Early planting will also suit the earlier maturing varieties of maize which have been developed in recent years and allow fields to be sown to winter cereal crops for whole-crop the following year before being returned to grass again, explains Mr Draper.

And with more ground likely to be sown to maize this year as farmers try to find ways of buffering rising cereal prices, agronomy is also likely to be an issue for many first-time growers, warns Mr Draper. “Going by seed sales there could as much as 50% more maize grown this year.

“The key decision on the agronomy front is whether to go for a one or two-spray strategy. Using a pre-emergent spray gives a safety margin should weather conditions limit spraying options later in the season.”