Early maize harvest offers catch crop opportunity

The forage maize harvest is set to start this week and an earlier season offers farmers the opportunity to establish a cover crop.

Harvest is likely to start in the South and East of the country in crops that were drilled early, reports Neil Groom, technical director of Grainseed.

“The high pressure sitting over the country has resulted in some warm days, but cooler nights and that has triggered the maize crop into dry down mode as it moves sugar in the leaf to starch in the grains.

“Early yields look to be high as plants responded to the good weather in the spring and fields have grown evenly from hedge to hedge.”

See also: Eyespot-resistance ratings make new maize list

Mr Groom believes this year’s early harvest gives farmers the opportunity to drill another crop after maize harvest. Many growers rotate maize around and will drill winter cereal, but for those that don’t there is a real opportunity to sow a catch crop of Italian ryegrass or forage rye for early grazing next spring.

These catch crops can be cut and resown to maize, but he warns that there is a risk of the grass using all the winter rain for grass growth, resulting in seed-beds being too dry for maize next May.

“Early grazing in April reduces this risk,” he adds.

Clamping tips

When cutting, Mr Groom has tips to ensure good clamping. Remember to check the chop length of the maize as the first trailers come into the clamp.

For cows being fed a high maize diet, a long chop of 18-25mm is preferred to give a good scratch factor in the rumen. If the maize is being fed to a digester then a short chop of 4-8mm is preferred to increase the surface area on which the microbes can work.

Clamp consolidation needs to be very good at longer chop lengths and a good rule of thumb is that you require 25% of the weight of delivery into the clamp for the tractor rolling the clamp. So if you are ensiling 100t maize an hour you need 25t of tractor weight compacting and rolling the clamp.


Drill date

Ht above sea-level (m)

Crop dry matter 3 September

Increase from last week

Petworth, Sussex

22 April



+ 1.2

Harleston, Norfolk

24 April



+ 3.4

Crediton, Devon

23 April



+ 0.9

Ticknall, Derbyshire

4 May



+ 4.5

Llandeilo, Carmarthenshire*

16 May



+ 0.3

SRUC, Dumfries, Scotland PLASTIC

23 April



+ 0.8

SRUC, Dumfries, Scotland*

23 April



– 0.2

* Variety Es Picker, all other sites are Es Ballade. Variety under plastic Es Marco.