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2011 Forage Survey highlights continuing maize expansion


UK dairy and beef farmers have increased their maize acreage by an average of 30% in the last five years, according to results from the 2011 National Maize Survey.

Conducted by the Maize Growers Association, British Grassland Society and forage specialists Grainseed Ltd, the survey suggests the main reason for the crops rapid growth is its cost-effectiveness in the current environment of rising feed costs.

Based on herds representing 64,000 dairy cows producing a total of 518 million litres of milk a year and 4,000 beef animals, the survey was conducted during December 2010 and January 2011. Average herd size of dairy respondents was 214 cows with a yield of 8066 litres/cow/year with the average beef herd being 165 head.

Total maize acreage planned per unit was 78 acres for 2011 compared to 60 acres/farm grown in 2006 – the figure reported in the same survey carried out in 2007 – representing a 30% increase in that time.

In total, 53% of producers say they have increased their maize:forage ratio in the last five years with 70% saying they believe the optimum maize:grass forage ratio to now be over 50:50 in favour of maize. Nearly 20% of producers say the optimum maize:grass forage ratio is in fact as high as 70:30 with almost 40% of respondents saying they now produce less grass silage than five years ago.

Main reason for the growth is maizes cost effectiveness and its ability to increase outputs, consistent with producers key priorities of reducing costs and increasing production, says Grainseeds Neil Groom.

Nearly 40% of respondents say cutting production costs is their number one priority for the future with a compelling 75% of producers placing this in their top three of key objectives, he explains. In second spot is producing more milk with 25% saying this is their top priority and 70% in total citing it as a top three objective.

When it comes to where maize fits into their plans, a decisive 51% of all producers say the biggest benefit of maize is the higher output it produces with 93% in total saying this is a top three benefit. Around 22% say the biggest benefit is simpler feeding with 64% putting this in their top three benefits. In third place, is cost saving followed by better herd health and fertility.

The importance producers place on maize as a cost-effective energy source is underlined by the factors affecting their choice of varieties with the majority of dairy and beef producers placing equal importance on a varietys ability to finish and its total energy yield.

In top spot was ability to finish with 32% identifying this as top priority and 54% recognising it as a top three. Around 30% of producers put energy yield as number one with 61% putting it in the top three, Neil Groom says.

The energy message is so strong that starch content pips freshweight yield to third place with 56% of those surveyed placing it as a top three priority compared to 43%. Overall, fresh yield potential was more highly ranked in the 2007 survey, showing a marked trend away from forage bulk towards awareness of the importance of cob ripeness and a varietys ability to mature.

One in eight dairy farmers now feed crimped maize from an unquantifiable small base in 2007 with 80% of producers now growing it for themselves.

Less than 7% of farms now grow maize under plastic with total acreage declining by around 7% since 2008. In terms of area, maize grown under plastic now accounts for less than 5% of the total maize acreage grown in the survey, Neil Groom says.

This is largely down to the advent of Bred for Britain type maize and new generation ultra-early varieties that can grow and finish in more marginal areas without the cost of plastic.

Only 11% of producers surveyed say they have built or have considered building an anaerobic digester on their farm whilst only 6% said they knew of neighbours who had planned for a digester.

Two out of three maize growers say they rely on the advice of advisors, merchants and other farmers when choosing maize varieties with 21% relying on NIAB lists. Only 11% visit trial sites to get advice.

Nearly 40% of producers say they would like more information about varieties – up from 26% in 2007 and now the number one need in terms of technical information required. In fact, 85% placed the need for more varietal information as one of their top three priorities, Neil Groom reports.

This is consistent with growers wanting more local data to base their choices on and also the extent to which varieties have developed over recent years and producers being keen to understand more about their potential.

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