Crimped maize offers livestock farmers the chance to produce a high-energy, home-grown feed which can help protect their businesses against the increasingly volatile feed market, according to an East Midlands contractor.
Bill Wright of Brookfields Farm, Rothley, has been working in partnership with Rob Wilkinson of RW Agriculture to drill, harvest and crimp maize. This last year has seen them working as far afield as Kent and Cornwall and they are gearing up to do more over the coming months.
“Crimped maize is basically grown the same way as conventional forage maize, but is harvested later using a combine with a maize stripper header. Once harvested the grains run through a crimper before being ensiled, using an additive to avoid heating in the clamp,” explains Mr Wright.
“Because only the grain maize is harvested, feed values are high. Typically it will have dry matter of 65-70% with 14.5ME and protein of about 9%. The feed is also 65% starch, and maize starch is renowned for being rumen-friendly, making it an excellent feed for dairy cows.”
Although the basic agronomy of growing grain maize is the same as that of forage maize, it does need a longer growing season and typically is not harvested until late October or early November.
As a result, it is not suited to all soil types, as machinery needs to be able to travel over ground in late autumn.
This date can be brought forward to mid-September if the crop is grown under plastic, and most of the maize grown for crimping by Mr Wright and Mr Wilkinson is drilled this way. The advantages of this system are quick crop establishment and, it seems, less need for fertiliser, particularly phosphate.
“Typically we would look to start drilling in mid-March as soon as soil temperatures reach about 6C,” explains Mr Wright. “Within several hours the soil temperature under the plastic is about 12C and the maize is away. And you could go even earlier in lighter soils, particularly in the south of the country.
“We will be experimenting with even earlier drilling dates next year.”
It’s not an exact science, but growing under plastic generally results in better yield and higher grain:plant ratio, so it offsets the higher cost associated with drilling, explains Mr Wilkinson.
“Overall, the cost of growing maize for crimping is less than you might think. Costs are typically about £470/acre (excluding rent), making the crop about £94/t fresh weight or £134/t of dry matter. Including a rental figure of £100/acre takes the growing cost to £114/t fresh weight or £163/t DM.”
For such a high-quality feed, crimped maize offers real value for money, believes Paul Macer of Kite Consulting. “It is high in starch, cow friendly, is excellent for milk proteins and fertility, and is easy to feed.
“The only disadvantage is it is potentially harvested later than conventional maize, which may not suit everyone. However, using plastic will bring it back to a similar harvest date to conventional maize.
“Additionally, it needs careful handling to ensure all the grains are cracked and to ensure the clamp doesn’t heat.”