Early indications suggest a bumper harvest for maize production this year with high yields of good quality material that should clamp and feed well.
Fears that the relatively cold, wet spring and challenging drilling conditions could result in later maturing crops for many growers have been largely abated, says KWS UK maize specialist Andrew Cook.
“The anticipated later harvest has not materialised for the main part and there have been some really good crops taken,” he explains.
Mr Cook says he is seeing yields of up to and just over 20t/acre (50t/ha) freshweight, harvested at a target dry matter of 32-35% and with more manageable starch contents than last year’s 35% plus levels.
“Last year’s summer droughts reduced yields significantly and this in turn concentrated the starch in the smaller cobs which presented quite a few problems for producers and nutritionists trying to balance high inclusion maize rations in order to avoid acidosis.
“This year’s crop should not only be simpler to clamp, it should be much easier to manage in rations with more usable starch contents of 30-35%. This should make it the perfect partner for the large quantities of grass silage cut in most parts of the country this year.”
Later-drilled crops seem to have been the ones that have produced the best results, says Mr Cook.
“Maize producers who decided to drill early are probably the ones seeing the most variable results in the field and ultimately in the clamp. Cold soils hampered germination and establishment and this poor start has been carried through the season.
“Those crops that were sown into warm soils romped away. This was helped by the relatively warm weather in June and September which helped bring harvest dates back on track.
“Growers choosing ultra-early varieties drilled at the correct soil temperature – about 8ºC in lighter soils and 12ºC in heavier soils – have generally achieved good results.
“There’s a growing school of thought that energy-boost varieties drilled 7.5cm deep at conventional timings are the most reliable and consistent way to produce consistent maize crops against a backdrop of increasingly variable conditions.
“Early and ultra-early maturing varieties take less time, heat units and light exposure to mature and produce higher levels of starch than later maturing varieties.”
Two KWS varieties have delivered particularly strong performances in 2023, says Mr Cook. They are Temprano, which is one of the earliest maize varieties available in the UK; and moderate starch variety Papageno.
“KWS Temprano has delivered strong yields and quality this year, particularly in regions with less than optimum maize growing conditions, while the clamp-filling variety Papageno has done particularly well in the more favourable areas.
“Feeding wise, Temprano has the potential to produce starch contents approaching 40% so if you’re growing these varieties, regular forage testing will help identify the best inclusion rate, but in general this should be below 50% of rations.
“In contrast, Papageno typically contains about 32% starch, making it more suited to high levels in TMRs and other rations.”
While high starch maize varieties can offset the high protein content of predominantly grass-based rations, high maize inclusion diets should generally contain some later-maturing types.
“A variety like Papageno is a good choice for this as it delivers high energy yields with only moderate starch content, thereby reducing acidosis risk.
“Generally speaking, however, we’re seeing higher volumes of optimum drymatter cobs and plants with more manageable starch levels, that will ensile relatively safely and reliably and balance this year’s grass silage very well.”
Specific lessons from 2023 and the importance of varietal choice and balancing maize types in rations, are around weed control decisions
“With later drilling often resulting in larger numbers of weeds in seedbeds being seen, I am more convinced than ever that pre-emergence herbicides are a very worthwhile investment. “
“Young maize plants do not like competition so a pre-emergence spray will not only help deal with that, it will provide a wider window for the application of a post-emergence spray subsequently.”
KWS continues to see a bright future for UK maize, says Mr Cook. “The increased investment we have made in breeding and screening trials recently has resulted in some very exciting varieties being added to the portfolio for 2024 with a strong portfolio for subsequent years too.”