Unlike their counterparts in the east, maize growers in the far south west are generally pleased with their maize crops, says Agrovista agronomist Martin Stuart.
Most maize in Devon and Cornwall has been harvested in good conditions, with early ripening coinciding with a dry first half of October.
“The first two weeks of the month were a gift,” says Martin. “After some catchy weather in September, the weather came good again.
“Some maize might have been taken a little early, a legacy from last year’s late season which saw some people miss the boat. But generally the crop has been two to three weeks ahead of last year and most has been fully fit.
“It’s early days, but judging by cob maturity we should see some good starch figures.”
Despite a cold initial drilling period and a dull June, which capped cereal yields, most growers say this year was better than 2015, with yield, starch and maturity, the three main drivers, all improved, says Martin.
“July and August temperatures were higher, allowing maize to gain the required heat units. In the far south west temperatures are usually 3-5ºC cooler than Exeter eastwards, which has quite a significant effect on maize production – we are more akin to the north-west than Somerset. But this year we got enough warmth to finish the crop well.”
The early harvest has left soil in good condition, good news for the rotation and providing a welcome window to sow grass catch crops. These have gone into good warm seed-beds and will help optimise soil stabilisation and nutrient retention.
Establishing grass post maize is usually more of a lottery in more typical October weather. Martin is keeping a close eye on work that Agrovista is undertaking in Lancashire, with Reaseheath College and machinery manufacturer Pottinger.
The trials involve sowing grass and leguminous species within the maize crop, either at or several weeks after drilling. The hope is that these species will mitigate run-off, and provide established grazing post-harvest, or further AD feedstock, while alleviating the pressure and costs associated with establishing grass leys after maize harvesting, often in poor conditions.
“There is certainly potential fro companion cropping – we used to spin on ryegrass when maize was at the four-leaf stage, but if it was dry it didn’t work. We also lost atrazine, so weed control became a problem.
“But technology has moved on, and we can now drill between rows with ease and have access to much better post-emergence chemistry. It could be a useful tool for at-risk fields.”
Given the more typical south west climate, early varieties are par for the course in the region, says Martin. A new variety from Syngenta Seeds, Nordic Star, that has been trialled by Agrovista for two years, appears to have lived up to its early promise in its first commercial year.
“The variety has been bred for northern latitudes, areas where we look for material. The variety is rated FAO 180, the old Group 9 equivalent, the same as Ambition. It looks very promising and has good disease resistance, especially to eyespot. Crops remained greener for longer and produced better quality bulk at harvest.
“It ripened at the same time as some ultra-earlies this season, yet produced significantly higher grain and starch yields,” says Martin. “If it carries on performing as it has done, it will be another step forward in getting more yield for the same earliness.”