Growing maize in partnership with neighbouring arable producers can benefit both parties and increase the quantity and quality of maize silage production. We spoke to a producer who’s grown maize on contract to find out more.
TEXT PHIL EADES
Increasing the area of maize grown could be one way to reduce the ongoing impact of higher feed and fertiliser costs. For many dairy units, though, there are limits to how much can be grown due to the suitability of fields and rotations. So working with an arable ‘partner’ could provide a workable alternative way to increase the area grown.
“Maize is increasingly seen as an attractive option for arable producers looking for a new break crop, and this means there are opportunities to work with dairy units,” says Agrii’s John Vickery. “Maize is one of the better paying break crops and can fit in well with arable rotations. And, with the exception of oilseed rape, maize grown well should out-margin pulses and linseed,” he adds.
Come spring, the majority of arable producers’ priorities will be getting wheat into the ground without compromise. Maize has an advantage compared to most other spring-sown crops in combatting weeds, such as blackgrass, allowing an extra month for a spring flush of growth before applying herbicides. With seed, fertiliser and crop protection costs totalling around £450/ha, growers need to select the right variety for their rotation and site.
“When considering growing maize on contract, it is important to remember the different objectives. While dairy producers will want high yields of quality forage, arable businesses need the crop harvested and away in time to sow the successor crop, usually wheat. This makes variety selection crucial,” explains John.
“New earlier maturing varieties, which require fewer heat Units to mature, are particularly suited to this and can still perform well. Breeding improvements have created opportunities to grow maize on less favourable sites with fewer heat units, or on those with challenging soils.” Newer varieties have the potential to achieve fresh-weight yields of 40t/ha and be harvested by the first week of October in eight out of 10 years, even on less favourable sites. LG Gema and LG Resolute, for example, are very early and early maturing varieties, respectively, which offer high dry matter and starch yield even on less favourable sites, and can work well in arable:dairy partnerships.
John has been working with producer James Meredith and his arable neighbour, Andrew Spratt, to develop a successful arrangement.
James runs a 250-cow all-year-round calving herd, averaging 10,500 litres, plus 200 followers and 250 beef cattle on 235 hectares at Village Farm, near the Severn crossing. His father began growing maize in 1994, looking for a second forage to complement grass and provide good yields of a quality feed.
“We had been growing up to 60 hectares of maize ourselves, achieving good yields but often struggling to get grass established after maize,” James explains. “As we have looked to add clover to leys we needed to move sowing dates for reseeds forward, but I didn’t want to cut the maize tonnage back.
“I have known Andrew for a long time and he had grown maize crops for me a couple of times in the past. So in 2018, when he said he had some land available, we decided to change our system.”
Under the arrangement they agree the area to be grown each year, and Andrew provides a shortlist of varieties, drawn up in consultation with John, that will suit the farm and the specific fields. James then chooses the variety to grow from the shortlist, allowing him to pay attention to factors like starch content, cell-wall digestibility and energy yield.
James sells Andrew 25t/ha of farmyard manure and Andrew is responsible for all crop growing costs, including agronomy. James decides when the crop is fit for harvest and pays for harvesting.
The contract is based on a fixed price per tonne of freshweight, assuming 30% dry matter (DM). All trailer loads run across a weighbridge to give accurate yield figures. When the silage is analysed, the price per tonne is adjusted for each percentage point above or below 30% DM.
Maize contract: agreement is often based on a fixed price per tonne grown
During the first year of the partnership they grew 24 hectares under the agreement, but for the past two years this has increased to 48 hectares. In 2021, they settled on the LG variety Resolute. An early maturing variety (FAO 190), Resolute scores highly for DM and starch yields and, with excellent cell-wall digestibility, it delivers outstanding ME yields for top-quality forage. It came in at 42t/hectare and 34.3% DM, with 35.6% starch and 11.5MJ/kgDM.
James Meredith says the approach has helped hit the ‘sweet spot’ on both farms. “We now grow just 16 hectares of maize on the home farm, which has allowed a small increase in grass hectarage, helping reduce pressure on grazing. It has also allowed us to grow 40 hectares of cereals, which means our grass reseeds can be sown in August directly after combining. This ensures better establishment with clover included.
“The maize variety we grow is chosen to ensure our different objectives are met and we work together to manage workloads,” adds James. “For example, the contracted maize is always harvested first to make sure Andrew can get his successor wheat sown. “The arrangement benefits both businesses and, by working closely with John, we are fine-tuning the system to bring bigger gains.”