February 6, 2017
Step-up early agronomy for the greatest maize improvement
Despite the sheer number of different maize varieties on the market, choosing which to grow for forage or biogas need not be a complicated or time-consuming task. Not least, because greater emphasis on early crop agronomy almost certainly offers the greatest opportunity for most livestock and arable producers to improve their maize performance.
This was the typically forthright advice from Agrii forage crops specialist, Brendan Paul at the Masterseeds briefing, reflecting on the past season when the earlier maturing varieties that many growers moved to after the problems of 2015 matured far too quickly for the best results in the dry September.
“All the work we do reinforces my belief that growers should put less emphasis on what they grow and altogether more on how they grow it,” he insisted.
“For me, maize variety selection is simple. In most cases, it’s a choice between one or two decent varieties that mature at the right time for the farm conditions. Although, with the large areas involved for biogas production, a range of varieties with different maturities is advisable here to give a manageable schedule of drilling, crop protection and harvesting.
“In total, we’ve selected nine varieties we can be confident in from our trials to span the entire range of maturities for both favourable and marginal sites across the country – Rubiera and Avitus in the earliest category; then FieldStar, Gatsby, ES Capris and P7326 in the middle and Salgado, DKC333 and Atrium as relatively later maturers.
“Several of these have outstanding resistance scores for eyespot which can decimate crops. We’ve found including one of the best of these, Salgado, in mixes with earlier maturing varieties can do much to reduce eyespot risk as well as improving pollination and bringing the harvest forward without compromising yield.”
Whatever variety is being grown, Brendan Paul is adamant that early agronomy must be key focus for every crop.
“It costs as much to grow a bad crop of maize as it does to grow a good one,” he noted. “And, more often than not, the difference between the two comes down to the first six weeks.
“Maize is such a whimp early on. It needs TLC to get it going. In particular, it really struggles around the headlands as a result of compaction and, as it’s often grown in relatively small fields, these can be a rather large proportion of the crop.
“This makes minimising compaction at every opportunity and relieving any compacted areas ahead of drilling with effective sub-soiling essential for the best early root development.
“Also hugely beneficial, we’ve found in five years of trialling, is the root-boosting seed treatment, Take-off which we’re able to provide with six of our nine varieties. Typically, this speeds emergence by around three days, helping the crop to compete with weeds and grow away from slugs. Our trials across five sites have shown an average increase of more than 7% in dry matter yield and 10% in energy yield per hectare.”
As well as Take-off, Brendan Paul strongly recommends placing a starter fertiliser in a band just below and to one side of the seed. The best results he has seen in recent trial work – a 7% increase in dry matter yield over TSP – come from the specialist fertiliser, Maize Kicka treated with P-Reserve to maximise early phosphate availability.
Allowing for a 10% establishment loss under reasonable seedbed conditions, he recommends a sowing rate of around 110,000 to 113,000 seeds/ha to achieve the optimum 100-102,000 plants/ha maize population, increasing rates where sowing conditions are poorer or earlier than ideal. He stresses too the importance of the most effective control of weeds ahead of sowing and throughout the establishment phase.