The challenges of a later maize harvest

Published 20 November 15

Data shows that it has taken about three weeks longer than last year for maize crops to reach a set maturity, consequently, silage harvest has been much later than normal in many areas, says John Morgan from the Maize Growers Association (MGA). In fact, 2015 is set to be the latest year for maize in the past ten years. 

A late harvest presents various challenges, including the increased risk of soil compaction resulting from machinery running on fields which are less capable to support their weight. Later harvest also reduces the opportunities to establish a green cover crop to minimise the loss of soil and nutrient via erosion and leaching, respectively. 

The good news is that the relatively dry weather, until recently, allowed many farmers to get crops harvested before causing too much damage. In addition, the renewed interest in over/undersowing maize with various grass species, has also ensured that farmers have options to minimise losses to the environment. The MGA continues to be involved in winter meetings focused on post-harvest management of maize stubbles, and would argue that all maize stubbles should be actively managed to minimise the amount of soil and nutrient loss that may result over winter months. 

Crop yield data from around the country again shows a huge variety in performance. Key to yield variation appears to be soil structure, weed competition and crop nutrition. Crop nutrition issues appear to be the result of inaccurate estimation of nutrient supply from organic manures. This can either be too much or, more often than not, too little nitrogen being applied to a crop that, like other non-legume crops, needs sufficient nitrogen to produce optimum yields. Growers should test organic manures, calculate the volumes applied to their maize ground and use the various tools available, including the MANNER software to quantify the nutrient applied.

AHDB Beef and Sheep have a publication, Manual 10 Growing and Feeding Maize Silage for Better Returns, available to download from their website.