17 August 2001

Grain maize demand offers good light land opportunity

Maize growers on light land

could harvest grain maize

this winter to meet growing

market demand, as

Marianne Curtis found out.

GROWING maize for grain is possible in the UK and premiums of about £40/t should be available for GM-free, fully traceable material as the market develops, says one Sussex-based producer.

Tim Gue farms 480ha (1200-acre) Huddlestone Farm near Ashurst. As well as a 240-cow pedigree Holstein dairy herd, the farm is cropped with spring barley, rape, spring and winter wheat and 114ha (285 acres) of maize. Soil type is green sand and Weald clay, with maize mainly grown on the green sand portion of the farm.

"We are growing about 165 acres more maize than last year because it did not stop raining until the end of April, which hampered sowing of other crops," says Mr Gue.

As yet, Mr Gue is undecided on what areas of maize will be set aside for forage, ground ear and grain maize. "I am completely flexible. We have three silage clamps, one will be used for grass silage and two for maize. I expect we will harvest 130 acres of forage maize, 40-50 acres as ground ear maize and the rest as grain."

But although grain maize varieties can easily be foraged, care is needed when selecting varieties suitable for grain, says Mr Gue. Last year was the first time he harvested grain maize on the farm as part of a Maize Growers Association trial.

"As the crop is not usually harvested until November, resistance to lodging is the most important factor, with yield coming second. We were happy with Justina, Caviar and Loft."

This year Justina has been grown for ground ear maize and Caviar for grain maize, as Mr Gue believes it offers the best GM-free assurances.

"There is likely to be a niche market for fully traceable GM-free maize. Normally grain maize would sell for a £20/t premium over wheat, but I would like to see a £40/t premium for maize with GM-free assurances."

In the absence of a GM-free premium, there is little difference in margins between wheat and grain maize, says Mr Gue. "Although grain maize is worth more, scaling back of maize area payments means there is not a lot between them."

But as a break crop, maize performs a different role from wheat in arable rotations by offering better returns than other break crops, such as peas, beans and rape, when harvested for grain, he adds.

With grain maize harvested in November, only farms with light land will be able to grow it successfully, says Mr Gue. "Maize growing conditions are very favourable at Huddlestone and forage maize usually yields 20t/acre.

"Last year was the worst maize year imaginable, but we managed to combine it. Grain came off at 30-33% moisture and yield was 3.5t/acre, adjusted for drying to 15% dry matter."

Drying costs work out at about £14-£15/t. A continuous flow or batch drier is required because harvesting late in the season means air temperatures are too low for floor drying to be effective, says Mr Gue.

Although he hopes to sell grain maize this year, last year it was crimped for feeding to the farms dairy herd. "Milk proteins were higher at 3.35%, compared with 3.25% the previous year. This is likely to be due to grain maize inclusion in the ration." (see panel).

The herd calves in a spring and autumn block and current average yield is 8000 litres a head. Cows receive 23kg DM a head a day of winter ration and margin over all feeds was 14.4p/litre during winter.

For farms not interested in growing grain maize for sale, harvesting ground ear maize using snapper headers offers the best way of conserving maize grain for home-feeding, believes Mr Gue.

"Snapper headers which fit forage harvesters are now readily available, meaning ground ear maize can be processed as it is cut. This eliminates the need for crimping, saving about £10/t."

Ground ear maize is harvested in mid-October, about 2-3 weeks later than forage maize and two weeks earlier than grain maize. "Cob dry matter should be 60-70% at harvest, ensuring starch content is maximised."

Popularity of ground ear maize is likely to increase, he believes. "Ground ear maize was first harvested in the UK about 10 years ago, but popularity declined for several reasons. Varieties were much later maturing, delaying harvest, and there were few snapper headers in the country. This has now changed with varieties ready for harvest a couple of weeks earlier and more snapper headers." &#42

MAIZE OPTIONS

&#8226 Possible premiums for grain.

&#8226 Ground ear now more feasible.

&#8226 High milk quality.

Harvesting maize

Ground ear maize – Using a forage harvester, the maize cob is stripped from the crop.

Grain maize – Using a combine, only the cob grains are harvested.

WINTER RATION 2000/01

&#8226 7kg premix – soya, rapemeal, Regumaize, vits & mins

&#8226 1kg concentrate

&#8226 3.25kg crimped maize

&#8226 15kg grass silage

&#8226 34kg maize silage

&#8226 0.25kg fishmeal