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Growing maize improves drystock farming returns

David Jefferis (left) with his father Bob on their northern Waikato farm, post the 2007 harvest.

Growing maize improves drystock farming returns

2006/07 Season

Owners: David Jefferis
Farm location: North Waikato
Farm size: 170 hectares
Pioneer® brand hybrids grown: 36B08, 34D71, 34K77 (Grain & Silage), 33G26 (Silage), 34B23 (Silage)
Number of seasons growing: 4

In 2001 Waerenga farmer David Jefferis returned to his family's fourth generation property in the Northern Waikato.

David's father Bob had been successfully running a bull beef operation since the early 1980s, capitalising on the good returns back then, despite the vagaries of the US dollar and its effect on New Zealand beef prices.

"We enjoy the bull beef. However we are margin takers because our core bull policy is purchasing weaner bulls and finish them as two year olds meaning we can lose some of that margin if the dollar moves against us," says David.

Joining a farm business group run by King Country Farm Consultant Peter Keeling, David met some farmers who had become involved in growing maize, both for grain and silage.

He could see the potential for the crop fitting into his plans to enter the winter lamb trade business.

"Getting into maize breaks the year into two six month blocks. Spring and summer now see two thirds of the farm with bulls and one third cropping maize. The autumn and winter have us running half the farm in bull beef and the other half finishing lambs."

With advice coming from Pioneer Area Manager Grant McDonald, David felt confident putting in 110 ha in their first season growing maize four years ago. Despite the shift in business this meant for his father Bob, David says Bob was open in his attitude towards the new venture.

All maize work is carried out by local contractors, eliminating the need for the family to carry high value machinery.

"The lamb trading and maize have added a new dimension to the business. The maize provides a level of certainty when it comes to forecasting expected income at the start of the season."

In the 2006-2007 season the family planted 170 ha of maize, split between 100 ha for grain and 70 ha of silage.

"We have found 34D71 is the best grain yielding hybrid and 33G26 has been the best silage yielding hybrid for us, consistently performing well."

34D71 today forms 70% of the total grain area, and earlier maturing 36B08 is ideal for planting on the wetter clay areas of the farm, offering the flexibility of earlier harvest if conditions turn wet later in the season.

Waerenga is summer dry, therefore drought tolerance is essential in the hybrids they plant and David says the chosen hybrids have exhibited excellent ability to withstand the often challenging conditions.

Last season the farm won the mid-maturity award in the Waikato Pioneer Maize for Grain Yield Competition, with 36B08 achieving 15.24 t/ha and 34D71 also delivering in excess of 15 t/ha.

Longer term David can see on-going potential to lift profitability from their maize cropping operations. He plans on focusing on soil health to raise yields further and thereby take advantage of the fixed costs associated with growing maize.