2019 proved to be a divided growing season for many farmers looking for maize to provide a quality foundation to winter diets. For the most part, crops got off to a good start and grew strongly, offering the prospects of both good yields and high quality.
“Things started to unravel in the autumn when the wet conditions impacted on harvest,” Mr Camplin comments. “While some crops were harvested in good conditions, a significant proportion were harvested late, resulting in poorer quality forage, reduced yields and a delay in getting maize into the diet. Indeed, some crops may never be harvested.
“The important thing now is to plan ahead and decide what changes can be made this year to ensure you hit the real objective of growing maize – producing sufficient high-quality forage to last the winter and help support cost-effective milk production. It is more important to have quality than bulk. This planning also needs to consider the legacy of the wet autumn and changes to the availability of seed dressings.”
Mr Camplin says the very wet weather will mean that soils could be slow to warm up in the spring, especially if we have a cold snap in the new year. This might make it difficult to work seedbeds down to a fine tilth and will certainly make early deeper drilling, which has been proposed as an alternative way to reduce bird damage, less of an option.
He explains that this year there will be very little seed available treated with Mesurol which has become the default bird repellent seed dressing, hence the need to consider alternatives actions.
“Mesurol has largely been replaced with Korit this year and the majority of our seed will be Korit treated. While it is an effective bird repellent, it will be important to check what your seed is treated with and to make sure your contractor knows as Korit has specific toxicity issues.
“However, for many farmers, bird repellents are probably not necessary. At our five test sites across the country, we have not treated our variety trials with Mesurol for 10 years, giving a total of over 40 trials. In that time, we lost just two trials completely to birds, with just one other trial substantially damaged. So, it might be that in many cases birds are less of an issue and bird repellent seed treatments an insurance premium as opposed to a necessity.”
Mr Camplin believes success in 2020 will depend on variety selection, field selection and agronomy at drilling. To maximise the chance of getting the yield and quality required, he advises avoiding late fields and those at risk of water-logging in the autumn.
“Choose a field that will be warm in the spring and allow you to get on it at harvest. Work the seedbed down and only drill when soil temperatures are consistently at a minimum 8°C at the depth seed is to be sown, to get the seed germinated quickly. The aim is to get the plant to grow as quickly as possible to the two-leaf stage when bird problems are greatly reduced.
“Drilling early in cold soils could mean the seed will be slow to germinate and slow to grow away.”
He advises checking on the historic annual accumulated Ontario Heat Units for the farm and selecting varieties which will mature earlier in the autumn, increasing the probability of harvesting in good conditions.
“Go for an early variety with good early vigour to make sure they get away quickly and mature in good time. Modern breeding techniques have effectively eliminated the traditional yield penalty seen with early varieties and feed quality is typically excellent, so there is little need to gamble on later maturing options.
“Widely grown varieties like Glory and Pinnacle are both maturity class 10 or FAO 190 and are high yielding with excellent starch and ME content, while newer varieties like Trooper, Echo and Gema also produce quality forage from an early variety, reducing the risk of a difficult harvest. They all have exceptional early vigour so will get established quickly to reduce the bird risk.”
He says early vigour has also shown to be improved by using the next-generation biological seed treatment Starcover, which uses a combination of a plant extract that accelerates root development and increases root number and length, in conjunction with plant growth promoting bacteria that help improve nutrient uptake and boost early plant growth.
“In trials over several years, Starcover treated crops have had 18% more roots that untreated plants. Two weeks after drilling, treated plants were on average 5.1% higher and 15.4% higher five weeks after drilling, meaning they were capturing solar energy more efficiently sooner.
“When harvested, treated plants yielded between 3-7% more dry matter per hectare and forage was on average up to 2.6% DM higher.
“Using biological seed treatments combined with early varieties with good early vigour will help improve the prospects of a successful harvest of a high-quality feed. But the key is to plan to reduce risk when establishing maize this spring.”
Watch how Starcover works…