7 June 2002

Our forage maize slow

DESPITE having drilled all our forage maize by May 2, cold days and nights and dry weather since then have resulted in very slow germination. In fact, the crop is now more backward than last years which was drilled late, writes Tim Green.

This years variety is Antares which has always provided us with consistent yield and quality and is a good forage variety.

Our seed-beds have not been up to the usual standard this year and we will need to review things with our contractors next season, starting with the cereals.

All the maize ground was ploughed and pressed, then power harrowed before drilling. But many of the headlands were badly worked and, consequently, are very uneven which has made spraying a bone-jarring experience. In addition, uneven and shallow drilling left too much seed close to the surface and that may have hindered germination.

The contractor has a big, shiny new John Deere tractor which can run away with his now undersized harrows and that did not help because speed took over from efficiency. I cannot help thinking that the polymag, combination cultivator, did a better job with two passes.

Roll after drilling?

The other debate with maize establishment at Vimer is whether to roll after drilling. Rolling is very much in fashion in our area partly because the local machinery sharing group recently obtained a new Cambridge roller. But I remain unconvinced because whenever we have tried rolling, there has been no visible difference in the subsequent crop. However, I do regret not using a light grass harrow this season to cover the seed better and tidy the headlands.

With the imminent withdrawal of atrazine from the herbicide market and a present application limit of 2 litres/ha in force, farmers are beginning to modify their herbicide strategies. After seeking advice from our agronomist, Denis Fontaine, we are using a pre-emergence tank mix of Trophee (acetochlore) and 1.5 litres/ha of atrazine.

He advises this mix can be applied and incorporated before drilling or sprayed soon after drilling. We have opted for the latter and, hopefully, it will help control our main problem weed which is barnyard millet.

Despite a shaky start in the spring, the cereal crops are looking very well after some rain and are fairly disease free. The wheat has had number two of a three-spray programme using Twist (trifloxystrobine) and Arbitre (tetraconazole + chlorothalonil) at 0.5 litres/ha and 1 litre/ha, respectively.

Our triticale, which looks grand and very clean, will be sprayed with 1 litre/ha of Arbitre shortly in a simple two-spray programme. Both crops have received 140kg/ha (112 units/acre) of nitrogen, the wheat having benefited from residual N from previous manuring and the triticale to a lesser extent.

Because we have some of last seasons wheat left in store and forward prices are not good, I will have little hesitation in ensiling some of the cereals this year. Although the technique is practised rarely in this area, it is gaining in popularity as an emergency measure, particularly during a dry season.

Wheat prices are currently about £57/t with the harvest price falling to about £54/t. Forward prices were also low last year but, fortunately, we ended up £6/7t better than predicted.

Return of forms

The date for the return of our CAP cereal payments forms has been extended. They were due to be returned by Apr 30, but we were given the, almost routine, fortnight extension to mid-May. Although the forms are relatively simple to complete, with all the fields being registered since Napoleonic times, and having reference numbers for even the most minute piece of ground, there is always something to correct. In addition, we have to check all the livestock numbers and number of days present for livestock area payments.

During the weeks preceding the deadline for declaring crops we can obtain maps (from the local tax office) at reduced prices. Our 176ha (434 acres) were covered for just over £10. Every farmer is obliged to have all the necessary maps for his or her farm when the Ministry comes to check up.

We sold some cull cows and beef heifers recently. The cows fetched £1.26/kgdw, before deductions, or £441 for the best weighing 350kg.

Heifer crosses

The beef heifers were two Holstein x INRA bulls which are a hybrid bull with Charolais, Limousin and Blonde dAquitaine. In hindsight, we should not have kept them for so long because they tend not to grow out but remain stocky. At almost three years old on a traditional system, they managed only 327kgdw and 358kgdw and fetched £1.40/kgdw.

Another heifer of the same age, which was caught by the Limousin bull, has calved a well-shaped bull calf which will end up much bigger.

The third, three-year-old beef heifer we sold was a much better prospect. A Charolais cross Normande, she weighed 404kgdw and sold for £1.87/kgdw or £755.

During last years foot-and-mouth crisis we ended up keeping 17 Limousin x Holstein heifers. They are not the most saleable item and we need to decide what to do with them.

The main problem is that they do not grow out and have a tendency to become overfat. The options we are considering are putting them to the bull or implanting Holstein embryos. &#42

Although drilling Antares forage maize at Vimer was completed earlier this season at the beginning of May, the germination has been slow and patchy. Cold days and nights, dry weather and less than perfect seed-beds have frustrated crop establishment, suggests Tim Green.