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A little co-operation can go a long way

Co-operation between arable and livestock producers could help both parties this spring.

Arable producers struggling to get crops drilled should take advantage of the forage shortage in the livestock sector and grow maize, suggests James Todd of Grainseed Ltd.

Not only will its drilling date of late April onwards give waterlogged soils the opportunity to dry out and handle loads better, it would give an ideal opportunity for Blackgrass control.

Strategic use of early maturing ‘Bred for Britain’ varieties could also allow the crop to be harvested in time for a following wheat crop without breaking the rotation.

“Livestock producers are facing a real forage shortage with any reserves pretty well exhausted and many are desperate to recharge their stocks by growing or being able to purchase more than their annual requirement this year,” James Todd says.

“At the same time, arable growers are facing the prospect of leaving fields fallow or trying to put a late Spring cereal crop in and risk considerable soil damage and poor crop performance.

“Furthermore, any crops drilled in April will suffer yield penalties as there simply isn’t time for the crop to establish roots or go through the necessary growth stages properly.”

In comparison, the ideal time for drilling maize is between 20th April and 20th May giving the potential for land to dry out naturally and avoiding the need for heavy cultivation equipment until later in the spring once soils have drained naturally. .

“Even if drilling the crop is left until early June, the warmer soil conditions will mean it will produce more than an earlier crop sown in cold conditions, especially if you choose early maturing varieties like Coastguard and Picker which have exceptional early vigour for rapid establishment too.”

Maize is relatively easy to grow too with simple seedbed preparation and agronomy, James Todd adds.

“The key thing with maize is it doesn’t like soil compaction so assess the seedbed properly and don’t consider minimum tillage if there is any possibility of a cultivation pan.

“Take a spade and check for compaction and if necessary get the land sub-soiled as it is essential the main root is able to reach deep enough to access key nutrients. Because maize has a deeper root system, this also really helps open up the soil to the benefit of subsequent cereal crops.”

On the nutrition front, the main requirement is for Potash with 240kg/ha being the target alongside 150kg/ha of Nitrogen preferably from organic sources – but check soil indices to see if bagged Nitrogen will be necessary – and 60kg/ha of phosphate applied with the drill.

“A good rule of thumb is two thirds of the Nitrogen required on the seedbed and the remainder as a top dressing subsequently.

“Weed control should be carried out post-emergence and the crop provides a great opportunity to clean up resistant Blackgrass as you can use a different active such as nicosulfuron to really hit this pernicious weed hard.”

The key to making a success of maize commercially is to grow a crop that you know will be in demand, James Todd says.

“Talk to a livestock neighbour and find out what and how much they want. You’ll be growing energy effectively, so choose varieties that will reach full maturity early in your area and deliver high outputs of drymatter and starch. Each one percent of drymatter is worth at least an extra £1/tonne.

“Similarly, if you’re growing for a digester, focus on energy and grow a crop you know they will want and will pay well for.

“These are difficult times for both arable and livestock producers and a little co-operation could help both parties resolve some of the problems they face because of the poor weather and growing conditions – an achievable and profitable cropping option exists for growers and an opportunity for livestock producers to recharge their depleted forage clamps.”

 

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