After a difficult start to the current season he says maize crops in many parts of the country are looking good.
“Drilling was delayed by the cold spring with crops being planted anywhere between two and four weeks later than anticipated. However, seed beds were generally warm and since then the mild, wet weather has been ideal for vegetative growth. Most crops are now well established and ready to pull away when we get warm, sunny weather.
“The key time for sunshine and heat units is at and around flowering, so provided we have a decent July and August there is no reason why crops will not perform well despite the shorter growing season. The issue will be whether we get sufficient heat units for crops to mature and this is particularly true for the late maturing varieties which may struggle.”
Mr Richmond says early maturing varieties require fewer heat units to reach maturity which gives them a particular advantage in short seasons, allowing them to be harvested at the optimum time. He says waiting for late maturing varieties can present problems at harvest.
“Delaying harvest to allow a variety to mature increases the risk of harvesting in less favourable conditions. This could have implications for resulting silage quality and also for management of stubbles.
“With increased environmental pressure it will be essential to take steps to prevent soil run off. A delayed harvest would increase the soil compaction risks from harvesting equipment travelling on wet soils or make it more challenging to establish a successor wheat crop. If following maize with a spring crop the land should be chisel ploughed, which may not be ideal in wet conditions following a late harvest.”
He says there is a significant difference in days to harvest between early and late maturing varieties, commenting that on the BSPB/NIAB Descriptive List, early varieties are typically ready to harvest at least 15 days earlier. He suggests this can be the difference between a successful harvest and a struggle to get the crop in.
“These 15 days can make a huge difference to the quality and feed value of resulting silage provided. As costs of production are largely fixed, crop success has to be measured on the basis of how effectively it is harvested and the quality of feed produced. A problematic harvest is likely to increase cost per tonne of dry matter silage produced, as well as diluting its feed value.”
Mr Richmond argues that feed quality is another area where early maturing varieties have a significant advantage, suggesting they are better suited to the current requirements of dairy farmers.
“If farmers want to reduce costs of production, they need to produce quality forages. In terms of maize, this means higher energy derived from starch content and high cell wall digestibility in every kilo of silage that will eventually be fed to the cows. Early maturing varieties tend to be slightly lower yielding than the later maturing ones, but have better quality resulting in a higher quality feed better suited to producing milk at a lower cost per litre.
“Cost effective diets require consistent quality forage, rather than potentially higher yields of a lower quality feed. By increasing the prospects of harvesting at the optimum time even in short seasons, combined with generally high feed values, the use of early maturing varieties should be the foundation of dairy systems based on maize silage.