27 March 1998

Plastic gives a head start

ESTABLISHING maize under plastic is claimed to have removed some of the guesswork in growing the crop reliably and consistently year-on-year.

Thats the message from IP Europe which has developed its X-Tend system – a combined drilling and plastic covering process to establish maize in areas where the crop would otherwise not be suited.

"Establishing maize under plastic means growers in less favoured areas can produce the crop, while those growing maize in more favoured areas have the option of bringing forward planting dates by up to one month," explains Nick Everington, IP Europes sales and marketing manager.

Despite the systems increased production cost of about £114/ha, IP Europe maintains the higher dry matter yield afforded by the system – about 45% more than conventionally grown crops – equates to a saving of about £14/t of DM produced.

"When established under cover, maize has been found to mature earlier, have a higher dry matter yield and include more starch content than conventionally grown crops," says Mr Everington.

As with any crop establishment process, it all starts with drilling, and the X-Tend system is based on a four-row precision drill carrying a twin roll film unit and sprayer for herbicide application.

As seeds are planted, each pair of rows is covered with the 1.35m (4.5ft) wide film, creating a micro-climate to promote establishment and accelerate growth.

To ensure the crop spends a maximum amount of time under cover, the drill creates a channel into which the seeds are placed – creating sufficient space between the emerging crop and the film to allow the plants to reach eight to 10 leaf stage before breaking through.

IP Europe says the film is photodegradeable, staying intact for about one month, before film breakdown occurs and each roll contains enough film to cover 0.5ha (1.24 acres).

Price of the X-Tend maize drilling unit is £17,995.

Establishing maize under plastic is said to promote earlier ripening and higher dry matter yields than conventionally grown crops.