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Maize silage is a real game changer

Maize silage is a real game changer

2017/18 Season

Owners: Fraser & Katherine McGougan
Farm location: Taneatua
Farm size: 147 ha
Herd size: 430
Pioneer® brand hybrids grown: P0891

In 2016 they won the Bay of Plenty Dairy Business of the Year award. The competition was based on the results of the 2014/15 season when the farm peak milked 420 cows producing 1,264 kgMS/ha and 387 kgMS/cow. The farm received a payout of $4.37/kgMS yet had an operating profit of $1,984/ha and a return on assets of 3%. The farm’s cost of production was just $2.94/kgMS. The McGougans attribute their success to several key factors – planning, preparation and having excellent staff.

Good planning is essential because their land backs on to the Whakatane River which places the farm in an alluvial valley surrounded by small hills with its own microclimate. The McGougans look at maize silage as their insurance policy to help deal with the challenges of the microclimate which includes river floods. It provides a ready supply of feed on hand to keep the farm functioning while pasture regenerates. 

The other main weather problem they face is strong winds in February and March which, in the past, have caused a lot of damage to their maize crops. For several years they experimented with different hybrids which ended up with a significant portion of the crop being damaged. With the help and advice of their Pioneer Regional Manager, Robin Billett, they switched to using P0891 which is renowned for its robust stalks and root system. After changing their hybrid and altering some of their management methods they are now consistently harvesting 30 tDM/ha of maize with no wind damage. As Fraser says: “I am really impressed by the amount of research Pioneer puts into their products. It takes a lot of the guesswork out of the process.”

Fraser says preparation is also key to obtaining a high yield. “We start by spraying out early to knock back the vegetation.” Then he divulged his long-held family secret to getting the next part right - “I get my dad to do the ploughing. He loves it and he does a really good job.”

During this preparation phase they keep a close eye on the weather and, if conditions are favourable, he and Harepora Ngaheu, the farm manager, often work through until nightfall to give the crop a healthy start.

Fraser reckons to get an average 30 tDM/ha, there are parts of the crop that are yielding at 40 tDM/ha. “When the maize is nearing harvest, it’s incredible to just stand there and all you can see is dense maize wherever you look.”

At harvest the maize is inoculated with Pioneer® brand 11C33 to reduce heating and nutrient losses at feed-out time. It is fed out over autumn at 20 tDM/month for February and March, increasing up to 70 tDM/month for April and May. 

Sustainability is also becoming more of a focus in the McGougan farming set-up. They have implemented the spraying of effluent onto their maize crops and other pastures, fenced off their waterways and regenerated two wetland valleys back to their natural habitat.

“Maize silage for me has been the real gamechanger,” says Fraser.” It is the cheapest form of supplement with reliable yields and it leads to good animal health. We can rely on it to extend lactation, increase cow condition and
protect our pastures whenever we need to.”