“The typical pattern of maize seed sales is that only around 50% of seed is ordered by the end of February,” he comments. “The balance is ordered late, often in April, with farmers delaying purchases for a variety of reasons. Most years they are able to get most, if not all the seed they require but this season looks like it will be different.”
Demand for maize seed is likely to increase as farmers look to rebuild forage stocks after a difficult season. With forecast tightening of milk prices and likely feed cost inflation fuelled by exchange rates, he says milk from forage will be even more important. Growing extra acres of maize is a good way to increase total forage production and there is increased interest in growing maize on contract as a way to increase 2019 output.
“Increased demand could mean that stocks for some varieties may be in short supply later in the season and there are real advantages in getting the optimum variety.”
Mr Richmond says that the newer, earlier maturing varieties are in high demand. Farmers saw the benefits of early maturing options with good early vigour last year with crops getting established and away quickly. The earlier harvest also means crops are taken in good conditions and with silage made sooner, it can be incorporated in diets quicker.
“The market has been moving towards earlier varieties for several years. If demand remains high, those looking to buy seed late may find that only later maturing options are available.
“The other key to variety selection is silage yield and quality. Rigorous plant breeding objectives have resulted in significant advances in variety performance with increases in dry matter production and starch content. Combined, these mean the average variety today can produce enough energy to produce an additional 5600 litres per hectare compared to 15 years ago.
“If by ordering late you miss out on the better performing varieties, the consequence will be that you may have to grow an older variety with a resultant reduction in yield, feed value and milk from forage.”
Mr Richmond further warns that the most widely used seed treatment which farmers have relied on for years is being phased out. The enhanced insecticide Mesurol (methiocarb) which is extensively used to reduce problems with frit fly as well as bird damage will no longer be available. The supply of treated seed is unlikely to continue into April, particularly for the most popular varieties.
“As this is the last year when Mesurol can be used, seed houses will be running down supplies of treated seed because any stocks left will have to be destroyed. For the same reason, distributors will be reluctant to carry excess stocks. Together these mean that the supply of treated seed will be reduced as the season unwinds.
“Sowing untreated seed will increase the risk of poorer establishment and greater losses as a result of bird damage.
“By ordering early you will be able to ensure that not only do you get the variety you want, but also that the seed has been treated to help ensure good establishment.”
As all maize seed either originates in, or is packaged in Europe before being shipped across the channel, Mr Richmond also warns that depending on the terms of any Brexit deal there may be a risk of delays in getting maize seed into the country.
“Any increase in border and customs checks will potentially delay seed getting to distributors and onward to farm. As yet, it is impossible to predict what may happen but it may be prudent to reduce the risk of disruption.”
“The benefits of getting maize ordered early will far outweigh any potential benefits of a delay. The most common justifications for late ordering are the hope of late season deals and avoiding having seed in store for too long.
“When set against the prospect of getting the variety you want and with that seed being treated, the benefits of delaying are insignificant this year. The alternative could be untreated seed of a poorer quality variety and the prospect of higher feed costs next winter.”