Make good use of maize stubble

Maize crop maturity is relatively retarded compared with last year as the wet summer has resulted in extra vegetative growth, increasing the stover-to-cob ratio and increasing the time needed for crops to dry down. So anticipate harvesting later than normal to give crops time to ripen.

In a mature crop, all the sugars in the plant have been converted to starch in the cob. Starch and fibre are the principal sources of energy in maize silage, because any sugars still present in the plant will be lost during fermentation. So harvesting a sufficiently mature crop is essential to protect feed value.

It has been a challenging year for making sufficient quantities of home-grown forage and with cross-compliance issues like run-off and nitrate leaching to consider, can you really afford to leave maize stubble bare over winter?

One option for cover is to undersow maize with a grass ley in June or July. A new ley is then automatically exposed on harvesting.

Alternatively, by growing early maturing maize varieties, which can be harvested in September in most parts of the country, this allows time to sow a follow-on crop of wheat or a new grass ley. The latter will provide extra grazing and/or supplement silage stocks next year.

Two grass types suitable for sowing in October are Italian ryegrasses and Westerwolds ryegrass. Westerwolds have the advantage of being high yielding and quick to establish. But they can be prone to frost damage if the winter gets hard or in more marginal areas of the country.

Italian ryegrasses will give better forage quality and winter hardiness, at a slightly lower yield (about 15t/ha DM a year). A 50:50 blend of diploids and tetraploid ryegrasses is recommended – the tetraploids provide quality sugars and protein, and the diploids provide fibre.

If you sowed catch crops of stubble turnips and forage rape over the summer, then check them now for signs of leaf-yellowing, and top-dress with nitrogen when needed.

  • This column is provided by Advanta Seeds, seed breeder and wholesale supplier of a wide range of forage crops. For a technical factsheet on any of the crop options mentioned, email or call 01522 861 316.