Maize Watch - October 2011

In the latest in our 2011 Maize Watch series, our two farmers are feeling the effects of the unseasonal weather on the maturity of their maize crops.

Playing the waiting game to bring in crop

As early October’s heat-wave hit north Devon, expectations were high that conditions would be perfect for bringing in the maize. Sadly, this did not come to fruition on Furze Farm, near Torrington, where Maize Watch farmer Arthur Heard says his crop just wasn’t ready.

“It’s frustrating, but there’s nothing we can do but sit tight,” says Mr Heard. “It seems to be the pattern in this area, where we had some pretty cold weather during September, and even the crops under plastic are still generally unharvested.”

Of the two varieties sown within his mixed crop, he says the ultra-early Kentaurus is in perfect condition for harvest, but the slightly later Kreel still needs further ripening.

“Growing the two varieties together is about hedging your bets,” he says.

“It’s about spreading the risk associated with bad weather at flowering, as the flowering date for each variety is slightly different, and it hopefully gives you better pollination.

“Certainly pollination seems to have been good, with cobs bursting with grain right up to the top, but the milkiness of the Kreel grain would have made a late September or early October harvest unwise.”

“You’re aiming for the grains to be the texture of cheese and to leave an imprint if you press it with your fingers,” he says. “But the Kreel is definitely not yet at this stage, and harvest now would risk a lower feed value crop and the potential loss of further nutrients through effluent.”

“If you were in this position in a month’s time then you would cut your losses and go, but because it’s relatively early in the season, it would not make sense to make sacrifices now.”

A further drawback of the delayed harvest is the risk of eyespot, which Mr Heard says has now put in an appearance.

“A few people round here bit the bullet and decided to spray against it, but we opted not to and can now see evidence of the disease.”

“It’s not such a big problem as it would have been a month ago, as the cobs are fully grown and just waiting to ripen. Of course, as it causes the leaf to brown off quickly it will keep dry matters up, but that doesn’t compensate for the depleted feed quality,” he says.

As he awaits the right break in the weather, which has returned to typical autumnal conditions, he remains confident of a good harvest with hopes and expectations set on yields of around 42t/ha (17t/acre) .

“We still have plenty of leeway,” he says, “and could even find ourselves harvesting during the course of this week.”

Grain maize set to be harvested before forage

Maize Watch farmer Jeremy Kemp is playing a waiting game at Ryedale Farm in Melbourne, near York, where the topsy-turvy growing season has turned his maize harvest on its head.

“We hope to combine our grain maize this week, and assuming we do, it’ll be the first time we’ve started the grain before the forage maize,” says Mr Kemp.

Having tested moisture contents last week at 35.2 per cent for the Kaukas and 36.5 per cent for the Lapriora, he says he would prefer to lose two more percentage points on moisture before harvesting the crop.

Forage maize looks less straightforward, as the learning process continues for the farm’s first venture into growing the crop for anaerobic digestion (AD).

“Our main worry had always been lodging on these tall varieties, and unfortunately we’ve had a few days of high winds,” says Mr Kemp. “This isn’t helped by their tendency to have cobs near the top of the plant, which certainly can’t improve their stability.

“But our main AD variety is Fabregas and it’s stood up very well, although we also tried another AD variety called Sunboy. With some of this variety, we aimed to bring greater physical strength to the crop and more energy into the clamp by alternating each four rows with the slightly shorter and higher quality NK Bull,” he says. “This combination has held up well, but Sunboy on its own has suffered some lodging and, although it’s not flat to the ground, it’s leaning on its side.

“We should still be able to pick it up, but I wouldn’t want 300 acres like this to deal with,” he adds.

With the forage maize harvest expected to begin later this month, there’s a pronounced difference in maturity between crops sown on different dates over the farm’s two week drilling period.

“This is especially noticeable where we have used the same variety and in some fields the grain definitely needs more ripening,” he says.

However, for the time being the immediate focus remains on the maize grain harvest, and with headers now switched on the combine, concaves changed and the standard wheat sieves replaced with the rigid, heavy-gauge steel versions required for maize, both team and equipment are poised for imminent action.


A word from KWS UK

John Burgess, maize specialist

By John Burgess, Maize SpecialistTHE UK harvest is proceeding well, but a clear performance difference between early and medium maturing varieties is emerging.

Lack of heat units and sun in late summer means many later maturing maize types will fail to finish. As a result - judging from trials in the north of England - even those with maturity class 10 varieties may not produce an acceptable cob.

Variety choice is critical and should be a key focus looking ahead to next year and early drilling into moisture is key.

According to the latest market research, 20 per cent of the 2011 UK crop is now down to ‘ultra early’ varieties - 50 per cent up on three seasons ago.

Leading the way as third most popular variety overall is NIAB Cup-winning Kentaurus with 5,600ha (14,000 acres), most of which has been cut.

Kentaurus packs in more feed value per tonne; only one tonne or so per hectare behind the heaviest yielders, without using plastic.

Sown relatively late, ultra earlies such as Kentaurus are guaranteed to mature, and allow earlier harvesting.

Looking to next season, and with maturity class no longer categorised by NIAB, focus on DM and feed value scores.

Some breeders, us included, are issuing FAO numbers for every variety. This is a relative score based on the number of days it takes for the grain to dry down, and, unlike maturity class, doesn’t change.

The earliest varieties, such as Kentaurus, Activate, or Ramirez have low FAO ratings of around 150-160, so they take fewer days from planting to grow, mature and be clamped. With these, expect a DM content of 37-42 per cent and a harvest date around three weeks ahead of maincrop varieties.

FAO 170-180 varieties, in contrast, will be around 10 days later to mature and feature a DM content of 35-36 per cent.

Assess your needs and select early types to suit your area. Breeders have made significant advances on yield in the earliest varieties, so you can have a full clamp and quality fodder.

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