GRAIN MAIZE OKDESPITE
Grain maize – the
combining of forage maize to
harvest only the grains – is
proving a useful operation for
one West Sussex contractor.
But with harvesting dates
from October through
November, it is a crop that
will not appeal to everyone.
Geoff Ashcroft reports
MANY growers have yet to realise the potential offered by growing maize for grain production. And the slow acceptance of the crop could be a result of concerns about combining in November, at a time of year when such machines are more likely to have been washed down and parked securely at the back of the barn.
But for West Sussex contractor Keith Parks, who runs Agricultural Contracting Services (ACS) from Buddington Farm, Midhurst, grain maize harvesting is becoming an increasingly lucrative operation that benefits both the contractor business and the grower.
"Grain maize provides a useful supplementary workload to the 700 acres of corn that we combine during the summer," explains Keith Parks. "It means we can get better use from our combine and earn money at a time of year when the combine would normally be tucked up in the barn."
"And it is a crop that also provides an extremely useful break crop for growers," he says.
Mr Parks is about to start his third season of harvesting grain maize and this year, he has about 263ha (650 acres) to get in. He charges about £74/ha (£30/acre) for combining or £81.50/ha (£33/acre) for a combined harvesting and chopping operation.
Combining starts when the crops moisture content reaches about 30%. "When the cobs drop to a hanging position, they become protected by their sheaths, and can tolerate rain or other inclement weather," he says. "We dont get involved with drying the grain, but like wheat and barley, it needs to be brought down to below 15% moisture content before being put into store."
Equipment for the task includes a Claas Mega 204 combine, which is simply equipped with a six-row maize snapper header, to enable just the maize cobs to be removed from the stalks.
As the crop enters the machine, each stalk is grabbed from below the header by a high speed feed roller, which snatches the crop down through the header and snaps the maize cob off the plant. Cobs then drop into the header and are conveyed into the combines throat for threshing. Each high speed feed roller on Mr Parks header works against a set of stationary knives, which chop the unwanted stalk into 10cm lengths.
"The header was the dear bit – it cost about £30,000," he says. "As for the rest, its virtually standard equipment all the way."
To help the flow of crop through the combine, adjustments are made in the main elevator trunking to raise the clearance of the slats, enabling the maize cobs to be transported up to the threshing drum without bending the elevator bars. The only other changes that were made to the combine included the use of heavy-duty blades on the straw choppers rotor and the removal of alternate blades in the choppers stationary knife set.
"Threshed maize spindles are extremely hard and tough to chop which dictates the use of heavy duty knives," he says. "The chopped material comes out of the combine like a shower of bullets."
"And with such large grains and virtually no trash going into the combine, we can get a beautifully clean sample," says Mr Parks. "You can put as much air as you like over the sieves, you wont blow grain out the back. But because of the size and weight of the grains, we do have to limit the crop flow into the unloading auger, to avoid the risk of blockage."
Output of the Parks grain maize harvesting operation is about 16ha/day (40 acres/day) and when the going gets tricky, the combines 650×32 tyres on the drive axle are dualled up with a set of 18.4x38s. While at the rear, water is added to the combines rear tyres to counter the weight of the six-row header.
"Theres nothing too demanding about the service, and the extra income we get from combining 650 acres of grain maize is not to be sniffed at," he says. "Plus we gain an extra 650 acres of maize drilling for the crop, on top of the usual 2000 acres of forage maize and 200 acres of ground ear maize that we are currently involved with."
Mr Parks adds that because only the maize cobs are harvested, the combine can leave a 45cm stubble height, which means dirt and other unwanted material never gets into the combine.
For the ACS operation, the transition into combining maize was a straightforward one.
"We were already providing a maize silage service as part of our operation, when six years ago, we were approached by Pioneer to get involved with ground ear maize, for concentrate feeds," he says.
"To harvest ground ear maize, we had to buy the six-row snapper header, but it was initially for use with the forager," he explains. "Since then, weve developed our business to include whole crop and now grain maize services – the latter with the help of agricultural merchant Bartholomews of Chichester – so we can get as much use as possible from our machinery."
Robin Shaw of agricultural merchant Bartholomews of Chichester, reckons UK demand for grain maize is currently about 750,000 tonnes/year with the majority of the grain being imported to the UK to meet this demand.
Used by feed millers and compounders as a concentrated ingredient within animal feeds, Mr Shaw says that being GM free, the future for grain maize is a promising one.
"The UK market is full of potential," says Robin Shaw, who is looking to expand the acreage currently grown across the south of the country.
"I see the crop appealing to large arable growers who are looking for an alternative break crop with a financial incentive," he explains. "Grain maize will also be of interest to those who farm on infertile, sandy soils and are looking for a continuous crop that has the potential to out-perform their low-yielding cereals."
"With ex-farm prices of £95-£100/tonne and yields of between 2.9 and 3.6t/acre, it is easy to see the potential offered by growing maize for grain production," he says. "Variable costs for growing grain maize are about £80/acre and IACS land is also eligible for a maize payment of about £37/acre," he says. *