Farmer Focus: Maize in demand

Bill Davey – a former Lincolnshire farmer – emigrated to New Zealand seven years ago. He grows a range of crops including wheat, barley and vining peas and fattens store lambs on 487ha (1200 acres) of the Canterbury Plains on South Island.

Predictions are that the dairy industry will require as much maize silage as possible this spring to boost milk production and replenish feed reserves after the cold wet winter and nationwide drought.

We are signing contracts with dairy farmers and plan to grow 60ha of maize this year. Inflated fertiliser prices and the crop’s insatiable demand for water dictate the 60% rise in cost per kg of dry matter that they will have to pay compared with last season. Most arable crops attracting premium prices, so for once I feel we have the upper hand.

Alternative feeds – such as imported palm kernel, sorghum and tapioca – compete directly with home-grown grain. But as the New Zealand dollar continues to fall in value against the US greenback, the currency in which these feedstuffs are traded, these alternatives will become out-priced.

Maize will be drilled mid- to late October after grass silage. Borage would have been our choice until this year, but the returns from maize silage at current levels speak for themselves.

Other factors bolstering our decision to change course is that there is far less risk involved in harvesting maize than with borage, especially during a wet harvest.

It also takes pressure off the combine as contractors look after the operation at the dairy farmers’ expense. One downside, though – soil nutrient removal is high and must be addressed.

I am pleased to report that all the main line pipe and hydrants are in place for our irrigation scheme and all we’re waiting for is delivery of the irrigators, submersible pump and associated electronics. So progress appears to be on track.

Late-sown wheats, all drilled, are emerging evenly and with the wild Mallard all paired up and snowdrops out I’d like to think that spring is just around the corner.

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