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Poor quality grass could by low light levels this summer could be eased by using maize to boost vital energy in livestock and dairy... High energy maize can help offset low light levels

Poor quality grass could by low light levels this summer could be eased by using maize to boost vital energy in livestock and dairy rations.

Most maize crops coming off the field this autumn looking promising – but grass quality has been hit hard by the relatively poor conditions, says Wilson Hendry of forage specialists Grainseed.

“Last year’s maize harvest started early due to lack of rain in the late summer, but this year’s harvesting started at the more traditional time of mid September and most plants have reached maturity and desired dry matter naturally.”

Little sunshine

Summer 2021 was characterised by significantly lower than average sunlight with areas in central and eastern England receiving only 75-80% of the 30 year average sunshine duration recorded by the Met office.

“Many people in these areas have moved towards earlier ‘Bred for Britain’ varieties in recent years. These require fewer heat units than traditional high yielders to mature and finish properly, so the impact of the recent challenging conditions will be limited.

“But producers relying on silage and grazing land that has not been reseeded recently could find the photosynthetic efficiency of their leys to have been fairly low and this will be affecting sugar production and energy yields considerably.

“Equally, growers sticking with later maize varieties in the hope of higher overall yields, could find themselves waiting for their crops to catch up and ultimately finding these have not produced as much energy and starch as they would have hoped.”

Early and ultra-early maize varieties such as ES Tommen, ES Lovely and ES Bonnie have generally yielded well with decent quality. Starch contents of up to 35% and freshweight yields in excess of 42t/ha (17t/acre) have been recorded.

This will typically be material with an ME of around 11.5 mj/KgDM – ideal for high output dairy and beef production. But it’s not the same situation for grassland with the low light levels this summer really taking their toll.

Worrying

Mid-September figures from the AHDB’s ‘Forage for Knowledge’ resource suggest average daily grass growth rates fell by 7.5kg DM/ha to 36.1kg DM/ha compared to a five-year average for the time of year of 43.4kg/ha.

“More worryingly, the daily growth rate for this September is significantly lower than last year’s 62.2kg DM/ha per day. That said, many producers did manage to take high volume cuts earlier in the season but quality is variable.

For maize growers with high yields, it could be an idea to up its proportion from 50% of total forage fed so grass silage stocks are extended and the overall forage quality fed are increased, says Mr Hendry.

“It’s also a good idea to carry out regular feed analysis of both maize and grass forages so rations can be fine-tuned to deliver high energy without any potential metabolic issues.”

For more on post harvest, read about the safety initiative which was targeted towards farmers ahead of harvest this year.