Make more of maize in 2019
With yields in 2018 generally down on account of extraordinary weather conditions, Heather Briggs seeks advice for getting the most from maize in 2019.
Even maize growers who are advocates of non-inversion tillage may find they need to plough this spring to bury soil borne spores. Soils in the Eastern Counties are still suffering with a persistent soil moisture deficit (SMD) following the long hot summer of 2018. As a result, maize stubble will not yet have degraded, leaving it vulnerable to fungal infections.
In addition, at the time of writing in January, soil temperatures have not yet dipped sufficiently to inhibit soil-borne pests such as smut and northern corn leaf blight (helminthosporium), says KWS UK maize and hybrid rye product manager John Burgess.
He points to an east-west divide between maize growers, with those in the east primarily growing for anaerobic digesters (AD), while in the west it is long-term forage production.
“Most growers who are producing for an AD work on a low-cost strategy which often includes spending the least possible on soil cultivation.”
Nevertheless, he insists, soil structure should not be ignored.
“Those who are growing maize for forage plough every year as a matter of course, and there is also a lower SMD in the west.”
When it comes to variety choice, he advises taking a level of yield as a base, and then opting for early maturity.
“Seed for early maturing varieties may cost a little more, but seed is only a tiny proportion of the total cost of growing.
“There are environmental concerns about maize, so the crop is coming under increasing scrutiny from the authorities, some of which are calling for mandatory under-sowing or immediate cover.”
This is because the wide rows of the crop bring a threat of inter-row erosion and runoff from winter rainfall. Nonetheless, he emphasises, growers should not shy away from planting maize in 2019.
“2018 was a bizarre year, and while some people got away with reasonable yields, the national figure is estimated to be down 20–25 per cent on average.”
Short drilling window
Thanks to the ‘Beast from the East’, many growers were unable to plant at the normal time around 20th April, and contractors had to race round to get the crop in the ground as quickly as possible. This sometimes led to drilling depth being skipped as they tried to establish the maize acreage in a very short drilling window.
As the soils then quickly dried out and became hard, it made it difficult for maize roots to penetrate in search of water and nutrients, and therefore affecting yields.
Last year’s trials for the Maize Descriptive List were challenged by the heat and dry conditions, reflecting commercial crops, reports NIAB forage crop specialist Ellie Sweetman.
Where some trials failed due to drought and temperature related variable growth, others provided reassuring yield and quality.
Lodging was seen in both trials and commercial crops at levels not seen for over 20 years. This data is reflected in the varieties’ standing power on the Descriptive List and is aggregated with previous years of data to give a realistic measure of which varieties have least incidence of lodging, she explains.
Funded by the British Society of Plant Breeders (BSPB) and Maize Growers’ Association (MGA), the Descriptive List provides detailed information on maize varieties that have been trialled in a range of UK conditions with sites spread across the country.
Traits evaluated include dry matter tonnage per hectare achieved, dry matter percentage, starch percentage, standing power and digestibility, which serve as a guide for choosing both forage and AD (anaerobic digester) maize varieties, depending on whether site conditions are favourable or less favourable.
“As the possible impacts of an EU exit are not yet certain, many European maize breeders have submitted their varieties to the UK National List to ensure continued availability to UK growers.
“It is unclear what the impacts on whether and how we leave the EU will be and I would urge growers to get their seed orders in sooner rather than later.”
While both growers and trial operators alike were frustrated with the delay in drilling the 2018 crop, growers should avoid any temptation of getting the 2019 crop in too early as soil temperatures are essential for good establishment, with maize needing a minimum of 8ºC for five days prior to drilling and low frost risk, she emphasises.
“It is also important to take the time needed to achieve a good seedbed as compaction will be detrimental to quality and yield.”
Maize growers advised to act early
Acting on last year’s difficult growing season which saw dry conditions at drilling and beyond, maize growers who lost out on yields may choose to work seedbeds less to retain some moisture.
While this may help the crop get away, it will also assist weeds to emerge, warns Syngenta technical manager Georgina Wood.
In addition, cloddy condition will also make it difficult to achieve good herbicide coverage, where the use of angled nozzles facing forwards and backwards would help.
She advises early weed control, which ideally should be finished before maize reaches the 4-leaf growth stage, when yield really starts to be affected.
“If you have a weed problem, you may find it beneficial to use a pre-emergence spray rather than relying on a more time-sensitive post-emergence strategy,” she says.
“Changing strategy from previous years may be required to help you retain yields, as we have fewer actives available than in the past.”
Place orders for treated seed in good time
The withdrawal of active ingredients in seed treatments for maize has the potential to threaten yield performance and influence grower decisions for the year ahead, according to KWS maize product manager, John Burgess. He advises producers to place orders for treated seed as soon as possible, to ensure that they receive their first choice of varieties.
It is anticipated that 2019 will be the final year in which maize seed can be treated with Mesurol (methiocarb), and therefore suppliers are likely to be running their stocks down, says Mr Burgess. While the effects of Brexit are as yet undetermined, current European Union legislation may introduce a ban on the use of the chemical for this purpose by 2020.
“It is reasonable to expect that manufacturers will prioritise the most popular varieties for Mesurol treatments,” he says. “Seed that is left untreated can be vulnerable to bird damage and, apart from sowing at greater depths, there is little that growers can do to prevent plant loss, in some situations.”
Wireworm can cause severe damage in untreated seed and maize crops following grass are subject to the highest risk, he comments. Growers have already lost access to two remedial products: Poncho (clothianidin) and Gaucho (imidacloprid). A third, Sonido (thiacloprid), is widely predicted to follow this pattern in time for the 2020 season and there may be a move away from rotations where maize follows grass.
Another threat to maize seed establishment comes from fungal disease, and Mr Burgess points to a relatively new seed treatment which offers protection. Redigo M (prothioconazole + metalaxyl) is an effective method of minimising the ‘damping off’ of seed and reducing disease spread and subsequent yield penalties. Two other chemical treatments, both of which contain fludioxonil, are Maxim and Influx.
“Companies which treat seed have a restricted number of options to offer protection, so Redigo M is a welcome addition to the range; fludioxonil has been registered since 1993,” he says.
“Very few new products for treating maize seed have been launched on to the market in recent years, and the prospect of additional active ingredients being withdrawn is unwelcome news for growers. There have been some new developments, but these are mainly confined to nutritional products, which aim to improve overall plant health. Therefore I would urge growers to order their chemically-treated seed in good time, for the planting season ahead,” says Mr Burgess.
The secret to good maize yields
The key to good maize yields lies in the positioning of the seeds, according to one expert.
Steve Twist of Toucan Farm Machinery which imports the Monosem range of precision drills says that maize seeds must be positioned at a consistent depth, accurately spaced and with even soil to seed contact.
“This ensures the crop emerges evenly with equal plant competition of the available soil nutrients, water, and light, to maximise potential yield and give even cob ripening,” he says. “Monosem has decades of experience in this respect, which is reflected in the quality and robustness of its drills. The large diameter seed disc on the Monosem NG Plus 4 pneumatic seed drill ensures only one seed disc is required for perfect seed selection and singulation across the widest range of maize seed sizes.
“Dead-Drop placement ensures minimal seed to soil velocity difference, which maintains seed spacing and depth, with the seed being placed in a narrow soil seed groove, unlike a blown seed which is prone to bounce.”
The range is available with traditional mechanical drive, while electric drive versions enable operators to turn off individual rows either manually or automatically, using Isobus task control (TC-SC) software working with the tractor’s GPS.
This avoids double-sowing when moving on and off headlands, saving seed and maintaining infield even plant competition, removing the need to hoe out overlaps.
Monosem electric drills are fully Isobus and AEF approved for task control section control (TC-SC) and Geo control (TC- GEO) software, so they can operate automatically with GPS and field maps for variable seed rate control.
By changing the seed disc the Monosem NG Plus drills oilseed rape, beans, peas, pumpkin and sunflower as well as maize and sugar beet.
One-pass precision drill
Combining the Mzuri strip tillage drill with precision seeding, the Xzact system delivers a 3-in-1 drill in a single pass.
The Pro-Til Xzact system allows users to alternate between direct drilling, strip tillage seeding and precision planting. Like the other Pro-Til models, the Xzact system offers seeding accuracy, typically of conventional precision seeding drills, but in the form of a single pass drill.
With its staggered legs providing high trash clearance, the Xzact can drill straight into previous crop residue which is believed to help retain moisture, reduce soil and water erosion and improve soil structure.
All this is achieved with a reduction in diesel requirements of up to 80 per cent compared with conventional seeding – without penalty to yields says Mzuri.
Accurate individual seed placement is delivered via an electronic precision seeding unit and coulter assembly while constant hydraulic pressure is exerted onto each coulter arm to maintain seeding depth accuracy.
Regardless of seed size, the system’s adjustable pressure vacuum metering unit evenly spaces crops with each unit containing a metering disc and singulator to prevent skips and doubles. Driven by an electric motor, the same seeding distance is maintained at variable speeds.
The Xzact system uses mini hoppers which are automatically replenished by a bulk fill mechanism directly from the Pro-Til’s main 2800-litre tank, extending drilling time and reducing downtime.
Single pass system to maximise returns
The Samco System for maize establishment was invented by Samuel Shine 22 years ago and the family company has now sold well over 1,000 units around the world. The original concept of a 3-in-1 machine still applies, with sowing of the seed, applying herbicide and laying the Oxo-biodegradable film all integrated into a single pass, says the business.
Continual development of the technology lies at the heart of the company’s success and the newly designed 4- and 6-row drills which are now available in the UK direct from Samco.
With more consistent seeding depth and faster speed of operation as the key objectives, these drills have a new disc coulter replacing the previously used shoe-type coulter. The machines will also be used with a new and improved Oxo-biodegradable film that brings several important advantages.
“We’ve been developing and manufacturing Oxo-biodegradable film for the Samco System for 15 years,” explains sales director Matthew Shine. “This latest evolution of the product will be made at a new facility at our base in Ireland using a next generation resin that allows it to be even thinner (at 5.5 microns) than earlier versions, without losing any of its strength. This new film will be available in rolls of 3,800m, increasing the acreage covered per roll by 20 per cent.”
With so much uncertainty facing farmers in the post-Brexit era, maximising returns from home-grown forage will be of increasing importance to businesses seeking a sustainable future, he adds.
Maize silage offered in Berkshire
Berkshire farming family J Rayner & Sons has been farming in the Windsor area of the county since the 16th Century. The business grows a large area of maize for silage – soil type and weather in the area suiting the crop. Maize in the rotation also helps the business get on top of black-grass, also reducing the farm’s chemical and fertiliser usage.
“A number of dairy farmers in the region who we used to supply silage to have sold their herds and so we are always on the lookout for new outlets for our maize silage, pointed out director, Colin Rayner.