Federico Rolle weighs up maize planting plans amid drought fears

The long-term weather forecast for the 2011-12 season is a drought period (La Niña). This year, I’m thinking of diversifying my choice of hybrids and planting dates for maize. But with no security of spring rains, I will divide the planting area with 121ha drilled from 15 September and 60ha in late October.

In recent seasons, later plantings have produced good yields. Crops benefit from rain in late January and February when the maize is flowering or at the grain filling stage. Planting later also allows faster emergence of the seedlings with higher soil temperatures.

But to optimise yields, we need to consider several other factors, such as availability of water, nutrients, carbon dioxide, radiation, temperature, varietal potential, planting date, plant density and spacing. These latter ones are factors I can control, so it is important to understand their effects.

This year, I have chosen to plant three GM hybrid varieties, which all have high yield potential and resistance to stem borer. I will plant at a sowing rate of 4.2 seeds/m (80,000 seeds/ha), and a row spacing of 52.5cm. The average cost of seeds is US$144/ha (£87). I am budgeting for total production costs of US$465/ha (£281), an output of 11t/ha and a price of US$178/t (£108).

Global grain demand with low maize stocks is high, but there are difficulties marketing grain in Argentina. The export market is virtually closed and the only buyers are dairy farmers, beef feedlots, broiler growers and local feed mills.

Next year, I’m concerned the maize area will go down the same path as wheat with all the disruption that excessive government intervention brings to the market. But I’m willing to take the risk to develop a more sustainable agricultural system. Maize returns valuable organic matter to the soil, which is vital for my soya-based rotation.

Federico Rolle farms 2,250ha of rented arable land in the Pampa area of Argentina. He grows soya beans, sorghum, maize and wheat using no-till techniques and GM crops. He has a part-time role helping Brown & Co in the region.

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