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Southern growers lead the way

Randal Hanrahan in front of his inter-row cultivator on his farm in Canterbury.

Southern growers lead the way

2006/07 Season

Owners: Randal and Graeme Hanrahan
Farm location: Canterbury
Farm size: 100 hectares
Pioneer® brand hybrids grown: 39G12, 38F70 (silage)
Number of seasons growing: 20

Complementing their cropping and rural contracting operations with a GPS technology business has made good sense for Canterbury maize growers Graeme and Randal Hanrahan.

This father and son partnership has been growing maize for 20 years on the Lismore stoney silt loam soils at Fairton, just north of Ashburton.

With an ongoing focus on improving productivity and profit, the Hanrahans willingly trial experimental maize hybrids along with new farm equipment and agronomy practices. The combination of Pioneer® brand hybrids and GPS technology means they are at the cutting edge of maize growing in the South Island.

Randal imports and distributes "GPS-Ag's AutoFarm' brand auto steer technology and the home farm proves an ideal environment to test the equipment.

The purchase of one of the largest precision planters in the country three years ago was the catalyst for incorporating the technology. The John Deere 1770NT 16 row planter has a 12 metre span, no easy width to navigate with any manual accuracy.

"We fitted GPS because of the high risk and cost of damage to marker arms. GPS was the best option to maintain the accuracy of the planter,' says Randal.

Seven sensors guide the tractor via a high end GPS communication system, Real-Time Kinematic (RTK). There is constant communication between a ground base station, the tractor and satellites above, providing 100% accuracy in seed placement.

The precision placement of seed through GPS technology has also delivered improved in-row plant space accuracy. It has allowed the Harahans to push plant density levels up to 115,000/ha for grain and over 120,000/ha for maize silage crops.

The GPS auto-steer system also allows post emergence inter-row weed cultivation at 17 kph, compared to the previous 10 kph limit prior to investing in the equipment.

Future developments will allow individual paddock mapping to layer data on fertility and yield on to maps.

The Hanrahans grow 100 ha of Pioneer® brand maize, 20 ha of which is for grain planted the last two seasons with 39G12.

Yields average 10 t/ha, with up to 12 t/ha being achieved. Short maturing 39G12 has proved capable of getting by with less water and heat. It stands up well to Canterbury's strong nor'westerlies, and is an ideal early season grain hybrid.

The Hanarahans sell their maize silage to the nearby Five Star feedlot at Wakanui, and by return receive high nutrient muck for application on to their cropping paddocks.

The Hanrahans are long time maize growers and have enjoyed a strong and close relationship with Pioneer over the years. Randal and Graeme have always worked closely with the Company with their on-farm research and product evaluation programme. One aspect of recent trials has been testing maize silage planting densities of 145,000/ha.

"It has been great to experience first hand the improvement in hybrid performance over the years, which has seen incremental gains up from 8 t/ha of grain 15 years ago, to touching 12 t/ha today,' says Randal.

At 44 degrees south the Hanrahan's property is getting towards the southern limit for growing maize for grain. However, high plant densities managed with the latest technology deliver high yields and a profitable cropping enterprise.

Increasing demand from local end-users makes Randal optimistic about the future of maize for grain in Canterbury. "We are talking with feed producers who have an increasing interest in sourcing more maize grain in Canterbury, and there is growing interest and attention on biofuels," says Randal.