12 March 1999

Which crop is best for you?

Improving profitability with or

without maize was the main

topic at the Maize Growers

Association conference.

Jessica Buss reports

IN many areas grass grows better than maize and producers must decide on the best crops for an individual farm and contain growing costs.

Milk producer and MGA member Rob Tavenor advised conference delegates to calculate forage costs in £/t of dry matter. He urged them to consider how to best control those costs and how to use forages in the best way.

He suggested that on many farms, maize needed to yield 11t DM/ha (4.5t DM/acre), at 20% starch and 30% DM to be profitable. In more difficult maize growing areas cost/t of DM could be higher than other crops and feeds because of lower yields, he warned.

Standard figures for maize growing and a five-year grass silage ley suggested a similar cost/t of DM at £41 and £42, respectively. But these costs were understated and must be worked out individual on farms. Ensure additives, silage sheets, rent and haulage from away ground were included in calculations, added Mr Tavenor. It was also important that yields were identified, even when estimated.

Total growing costs for maize at his Lower Brenton Farm, Exeter, Devon, are £36/t DM because it produces a yield of 12.5t DM/ha (5t DM/acre). Low rainfall meant grass produced only 10t DM/ha (4t DM/acre), so grass silage cost nearer £60/t DM. His dairy herd is, therefore, fed winter forage of 75% maize and 25% grass silage.

But he believed it was possible to reduce maize growing costs on many farms by good input control.

"Reducing fertiliser applications with careful use of slurry which is quickly incorporated, low herbicide use and negotiating contractor costs could all lower production costs," he said. It is also important to choose the correct site, maize variety and prepare the seed-bed well.

"Make maximum use of the agronomy advice available." As an example of advice available, he is sure MGA members would see increases in maize yield by manipulating seed spacing and seed rates.

Good cost control could cut maize growing costs from £54/t to £32/t of DM. But that must be accompanied by better silage feeding management. Many growers are not achieving the crops potential in cow performance, he said.

But that did not need a complicated feeding system. There was evidence to suggest that simple or flat-rate feeding systems suited maize best.

Mr Tavenor sold his mixer wagon last year to simplify winter feeding, moving to easy-feeding and offering concentrate in the parlour. Together with careful protein supplementation, that has helped increase milk yield by 1000 litres, with 750 litres of that from forage, about a third of which is from grazed grass.

GROWING COSTS

&#8226 Dependent on DM yield.

&#8226 Can be controlled.

&#8226 Compare with other crops.