9 February 1996

Energy has the edge

FORAGE maize has never managed to match the feed energy of whole-crop wheat on one Somerset unit.

Yields from 50ha (125 acres) of whole-crop wheat have averaged 30t/ha (12t/acre) at 45% dry matter, which equates to 182.25t of starch at 400ha (1000-acre) Holt Farms.

Jonathan Wilson manages cows and followers belonging to the Mead family on the Avon/Somerset border. He considers fermented whole-crop wheat produces a more consistent forage to complement quality grass silage in an area which is marginal for growing maize.

The Mendips land ranges from 77-275m (250-900ft) above sea level with six different soil types and rainfall up to 1420mm (56in).

"The heavy clay soil, altitude and rainfall make forage maize a risky crop. And though we have grown it for four years, I have not been pleased with the results. But we can grow heavy winter wheat crops," says Mr Wilson.

Holt Farms grows 110ha (260 acres) of wheat, all used for stock feed.

"The crop is cut by contractor using a 16ft header with a 1000-litre container behind applying Live System additive. I decide the state of crop maturity and the height when we cut. At harvest time I spend about a week in the field with scissors cutting samples and then drying in the microwave oven to assess optimum dry matter and maturity," says Mr Wilson.

Wheat for forage is treated as a conventional cash crop with inputs to achieve high yields. This includes normal seed-bed preparations, soil analysis, fertiliser, herbicide and fungicide techniques. Two growth regulators are applied, one to assist tillering, the other to reduce stem elongation. &#42

&#8226 Maturity at the right time of year.

&#8226 Increased dry matter and starch content.

&#8226 Weather most likely to be dry with no chance of mud on the roads or forage contamination.

&#8226 Longer day length makes harvesting and road travel easier.

&#8226 Any crop surplus can be combined as grain.

&#8226 Plenty of time is left after harvest for Aug-Sept reseeding if required.

&#8226 Can increase milk yield and protein levels when fed as part of mixed forage diet.

&#8226 Improves cow health and reduces foot ailments.

Jonathan Wilson: "Forage maize fails to match feed energy of whole-crop wheat."