Farmer Focus: Testing different maize establishment methods

Today marks what I hope is the end of a long dry period for us here, with some sustained drizzle and more on the way. It has seemed distinctively like last year, but winter crops have looked far less stressed.

They seem to have been able to hold on, and the winter wheats continue to look good.

Although fertiliser has been a stress, the decision to increase winter wheat cropping looks to have a been a good one, with even the second wheats appearing strong.

See also: How variety blends can protect wheat against septoria

About the author

Charlie Cheyney
Arable Farmer Focus writer Charlie Cheyney farms more than 480ha land in Hampshire in partnership with his father. They run a mixed arable and 450-cow dairy enterprise, growing cereal and forage crops on varying soils, from chalk to heavy clay.
Read more articles by Charlie Cheyney

I am conscious that with more wheat in the rotation we are going to increase our disease and weed pressure.

Recently, while spraying the sterile strips around the field boundaries, I had a stark reminder of how blackgrass remains a very real threat.

That said, this seems a worthy trade-off when we can use both the grass and maize to give us a good break.

On the other hand, the reduced acreage of spring barley planted this season has been a little sluggish and desperate for some rain to give it a boost.

I’m hoping the decision to increase seed rates this year will combat the little time it will have for tillering.

The dry period also gave us ample time to establish our maize crops.

This year we have trialled a few different establishment techniques, which have varied from ploughing and discing to a variation of tine and disc cultivators, as well as low-disturbance subsoiling.

We have also trialled strip-till cultivating with the help of my cousin’s new cultivator.

Soil conditions were tricky – like with the spring barley, a baked surface with wet underneath made the situation difficult. Less is more seemed to be the key lesson learned.

In heavier patches, each cultivation pass seemed to undo the last, with tractor wheelings compacting the seed-bed.

The plough didn’t seem to perform well. I think ploughing in the spring doesn’t work for us and autumn ploughing would prevent manure being applied.

The strip-till remains the most exciting prospect.

Although soil conditions made creating a friable tilth difficult in places, I hope the open and deep seed-bed below the seed will really help rooting later in the season.

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