Maize growers can look forward to better harvest performance by using under-sowing techniques to establish the crop, says Suffolk grass specialists Barenbrug. Trialled last year, the company’s Proterra Maize – based on Barenbrug’s tall fescue technology – offers a quick and easy solution for establishing under-sown cover in maize, while addressing growers’ worries about competition from the main crop.
“Issues with soil erosion and nutrient leaching, coupled with damage to the soil structure at harvest and the knock-on effects on soil health, have spurred considerable interest in under-sowing maize,” says Barenbrug maize specialist Roger Bacon.
“Some water companies have even introduced their own incentives or subsidies to reduce run-off in water-catchment areas,” says Mr Bacon. Green manures or cover crops may soon become mandatory practice in maize cultivation, he adds.
Specially developed as a green cover crop for maize, Proterra Maize has an extremely deep-branched rooting system. This maintains soil structure and health post-harvest, reducing soil erosion and nutrient leaching.
Deep roots also soak up nutrients from a far greater volume of soil – and allows carbon to be sequestered much deeper within the soil profile. Carbon sequestered in the top 20cm of the soil is much less stable than carbon at greater depths, says Mr Bacon. Some growers have been reluctant to adopt under-sown techniques when growing maize. They cite concerns that a fast-growing cover crop could rob the main crop of critical sunlight, moisture and minerals.
“In selecting and developing this variety, we’ve opted for traits that favour rapid germination but far slower growth post-emergence. This gives it time to develop its deep, robust root system, while presenting little competition for the maize.”
Deep and intensively branched roots also endow the soil with a higher bearing capacity, allowing growers improved confidence to harvest when the crop is ripe – without the worry of structural damage, either to the soil or the cover crop itself. Higher levels of soil biomass ensure a more fertile soil too – improving the performance of subsequent crops. Further research will examine the performance differences between different blends of Proterra Maize, and their potential applications.
“What we’ve seen so far is that performance is variety specific,” says Mr Bacon. “This confirms anecdotal evidence from early adopters, indicating that it’s not just a matter of buying any tall fescue, as not all work. “With Proterra Maize, we’re trying to help growers have more confidence in the practice of under-sowing, allowing them to realise some or all of its valuable benefits on their farms with a product that’s designed for the task at hand.”