Serving the Farming Industry across East Anglia for 35 Years
Maize could be a good choice for many growers this spring – stacking up well against more conventional crops with additional benefits from the... Why maize could be good arable option this spring

Maize could be a good choice for many growers this spring – stacking up well against more conventional crops with additional benefits from the Sustainable Farming Incentive.

“Significant reductions in nitrogen use, low-input agronomy and soil improvement opportunities are just some of the appeal and managed properly maize can bring a welcome diversity to arable rotations,” says KWS technical maize specialist Andrew Cook.

“If you’re located close to a dairy farm, beef producer or anaerobic digestion plant, there could be a local market for forage maize, but there is growing interest in growing maize as a grain crop too.

“If you are growing maize for grain it is important to load things in your favour to ensure you have a crop that is going to get to harvest and that means looking at the best site, the right crop establishment method and the most appropriate varieties.”

Site choice

Whether you are growing maize for forage or grain, the first objective is to choose the best site as this plays a key role in determining maize yield and quality.

“The easiest way to increase yield is to avoid sowing maize on non-performing fields. It’s a crop that favours sheltered locations with a south-facing aspect, which will permit earlier drilling and maintain soil temperature for longer in early spring.”

Sheltered fields also offer higher retention of heat units and radiation into the canopy, benefiting total yield potential. The recommended maximum altitude for maize is 1,000 feet (300 metres) above sea level, says Mr Cook.

“Maize favours sandy/sandy loam soils, a well aerated soil structure and no compaction. Clay soils hold water and are slow to warm up in spring although maize can be grown on soils with a clay content of up to 25% if earlier drilling is used.

“Chalk is unsuitable, as it is slow to warm up in spring and can reflect sunlight. But chalk downland soils can support maize if soil depth is sufficient. Poorly aerated soils will limit root formation and can cause premature crop senescence.”

Varietal selection

Once soils and field conditions have been factored in, variety selection largely revolves around heat units available, says Mr Cook.

“KWS Anastasio is a great choice for grain maize due to its high grain yield and excellent standing power. If you’re in an area with a higher number of heat units available then KWS Papageno would be a sound choice, too.

“While KWS Exelon would be a good option for slightly more marginal areas, ultra-early varieties with maturity ratings of FAO 150 to 160 are not recommended for grain due to the risk of brackling, where plants break below the cob as they mature.

“You can select the best varieties with the correct maturity based on the average heat units for your location and get an idea of the predicted harvest date by using the online tool.”

Time of drilling critical

While modern hybrids have a high degree of cold tolerance, they should not be drilled before soils have reached an even temperature to give the best possible establishment, says KWS maize specialist Thomas Turner.

“This is 8°C for light soils and 12°C for heavy soils for 3-4 consecutive days. If you drill earlier, you’re likely to have poor germination, uneven emergence and reduced nutrient uptake germination, while drilling too late could delay harvesting, risk poor maturity and increase lodging risk.

“Optimum drilling depth depends on time of planting with this being 3-5cm for crops drilled April to early May, 5-7cm from early May onwards and 7-9cm from mid-May onwards.”

Starter fertilisers generally increase yields, improve the speed of establishment and lead to earlier maturity, says Mr Turner.

“Nitrogen applications once the crop is growing are not usually needed, however, particularly if full use of organic sources has been made. The crop is unlikely to require much in the way of agronomic interventions, unless you are in area where maize eyespot occurs.”

There are several options complementary to maize production under SFI too, he adds.