Farmer Focus: Grain maize and sunflowers help in tough year

Planning ahead for spring work is always a challenge. I usually hope things get going before the end of March, and by April, spring cereals are established. Then the focus can shift to spraying, fertiliser applications and other crops such as maize.

However, 2024 has written a totally new script.

We didn’t get going with any spring work other than a small amount of fertiliser and spraying until early April, but even this has been a stop-start, pick-and-choose affair.

See also: Why grain maize could be a profitable spring cropping option

About the author

Matt Redman
Farmer Focus writer
Matt Redman farms 370ha just north of Cambridge and operates a contracting business specialising in spraying and direct-drilling. He also grows cereals on a small area of tenancy land and was Farm Sprayer Operator of the Year in 2014.
Read more articles by Matt Redman

Conditions have been challenging. No one wants to be drilling into cold, wet seed-beds with poor weather forecast.

Waiting a few days, the conditions have been changing from borderline bog to concrete on top and plasticine below. Not the ideal conditions for machinery or plants.

Recent years have added a constant fear that when things eventually dry up, we will enter a drought and not see any further rain until harvest.

This only adds to the pressure to get things done as quickly as possible, as soon as possible.

I have switched cropping more times than I can remember over the last few months, but I have finally decided to try growing grain maize, along with a small trial area of sunflowers.

This has been pushed primarily by the need to push back some drilling dates, and also being crops I have wanted to try for a few years.

There are still unknowns to me with these crops, but trial and error is sometimes required and I’m not sure they can be much worse than my experiences with other break crops.

Growing a new crop and its associated learning adds new positivity, enthusiasm, and interest to what has been a fairly challenging and negative year.

Winter crops have come through fairly well here, and a couple of opportunities to get more wheat drilled in December and the end of January have taken some pressure off and resulted in some good-looking crops.

A last minute decision to subsoil most of the farm last harvest looks to have paid off, with some visible differences between crops where it has and hasn’t been carried out.

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