Rain sees expected early maize harvest put back

The countdown to maize harvest has started.

But the expected record early September start date is now likely to be pushed towards the end of the month.

Grainseed technical manager, Neil Groom, says that after the July heatwave flowering was 10-14 days earlier than normal.

“But recent rain and cooler temperatures have freshened up crops and quality will depend on optimum maturity at harvest and level of grainfill.

“Crops are inconsistent, with fantastic crops in some areas and poor ones in nearby fields.

Differences can be attributed to drilling date, seed-bed preparation, weed control, crop nutrition and rainfall,” he adds.

On inspection, Sussex-based producer John Hancock’s crop is set to be fit for harvest in three weeks.

Usually sowing after Italian ryegrass in mid-May, Mr Hancock this year decided to drill a percentage of his crop after wheat stubble with an early variety on 24 May, resulting in earlier grain maturity.

Urging farmers to inspect crops, Wiltshire seed merchant David Bright believes that extreme temperatures in July and early August may have altered ripening times.

“Late crops may well be ready earlier than expected and, in contrast, traditionally early crops could mature slightly later.

“Crops look even, with growth stages on average looking about 11 days earlier than normal, depending on soil type and drilling date,” says Mr Bright.

“With earlier harvest dates, this leaves a perfect opportunity for sowing catch crops for winter and spring grazing.

Although past optimal drilling date for stubble turnips, a warm autumn could produce a respectable forage crop.

And even when forage isn’t at premium, crops like mustard could act to maintain soil structure.”

Residual ryegrass

Italian ryegrass could be a beneficial early grazing and first-cut silage option, particularly with forage set to be in demand come next spring.

But he advises producers to be aware land to be put back into maize next season will suffer the danger of having residual ryegrass, requiring extra herbicide costs next summer as well as taking any moisture from soil near drilling time.

Another option is to sow forage rape for out-wintering young stock, providing grazing for December and January, which would subsequently ease the strain on stored forage.

Across the country crops are either very high or very low yielding, says Lindsay Cousland, maize development manager at Advanta.

“Variable drilling dates and cold, wet weather in May has hampered growth rates in some areas, but warm weather has evened crops.

“Recent rain has helped bulk out drought-hit crops, particularly in our north-west trial crop.

A mid-August inspection showed crop just finishing flowering, promising later harvest dates and lower yields than normal,” she adds.

“In contrast, some sites are doing exceptionally well. Following sampling on 17 August at our Worcestershire site, harvest is expected about 11 September, slightly earlier than normal.

Preliminary dry matter samples show 27% with badgers already sniffing around, indicating maturation,” reckons Ms Cousland.