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Technology and genetics drive crop performance

Mike Doherty (right) with his son Andrew, autumn 2007.

Technology and genetics drive crop performance

2006/07 Season

Owners: Doherty Family
Farm location: Bay of Plenty
Farm size: 550 hectares
Pioneer® brand hybrids grown: 33J24, 34P88, 33J56 (silage)
Number of seasons growing: 40

A combination of passion, technology and technique has kept Mick Doherty growing maize for over 40 years, and that passion for the crop now continues with the involvement of his son Andrew.

This father and son team plant and harvest 400 ha of maize for grain annually in the Whakatane district, which includes half on land they own or lease, and half grown on contract.

With the perspective and history of all those years growing maize, Mick is as optimistic and excited about the crop looking forward as he has ever been.

"I visited the United States a couple of years ago and was amazed at the area that is going into ethanol production there. It was a real eye opener and made me realise the potential the crop could have here," says Mick.

The potential to grow more maize in New Zealand for both feed and possibly ethanol production struck him as significant, given the ability to deliver yields here at home that are at least as good and often better than US farmers achieve.

Mick says the key to improving crop yields and maintaining a good profit margin is to pay attention to the new hybrids being trialled and released every season by Pioneer.

"Donkey's years" of involvement in Pioneer trials on his property near Whakatane provide him with valuable insight to what hybrids will perform best on the silty, sometimes wet soils around the Whakatane district.

Mick has found longer maturing 33J24 to be a solid performer in recent years. With it, Mick won the Bay of Plenty Regional Cup for 2004 and 2005 in Pioneer's Maize for Grain Yield Competition. In the 2007 Competition Mick again won the Regional Cup with 34B97 yielding an impressive 16.45 tonnes per hectare.

In the 2006-2007 season Mick also planted 34P88, a new hybrid with superior drought tolerance that has shown excellent potential in trials across the main maize growing regions of the northern North Island, including those on Mick's property.

Robin Billett, Pioneer's Area Manager for Bay of Plenty says Mick is very quick to pick up on trial results and to run with new hybrids on a commercial scale as soon as they are released.

Mick says the biggest challenge facing growers today is the unpredictability of the weather. Despite that, he and Andrew consistently achieve an impressive 12.5 t/ha average yield.

With the family continuously cropping some of their paddocks for almost 50 years, unlocking the genetic potential of the hybrids relies on looking after the soil before, during and after planting, as well as paying close attention to weed control.

For the last three years they have been using liquid starter fertiliser at planting time. A nitrogen-phosphate blend is placed alongside the seed using a customised planter operated by long time contractor and grower Alan Ernest.

Alan and his father Tom share with the Dohertys, a similarly long history of growing maize in the region.

"We find the liquid placement is easier and more accurate than using solids resulting in reduced wastage, and as the flow through is better there are no blockages," says Mick.

Mick regularly changes herbicides to prevent resistance establishing on country where weeds can be a problem, particularly on the flood prone lowlands.

A real boost to soil health in recent years has come from deep ripping the paddocks after ploughing.

"It tends to do one of two things. If the soil is drier, then ripping lets moisture move up through the profile. If the soil is wetter then it helps the moisture move out of the planting profile," says Mick.

Mick and Andrew cover the whole area they crop themselves from soil preparation through to harvesting, no mean feat over 400 ha. Even so, Mick says the temptation can be to do more.

To keep stress levels down at the busy times, Mick enjoys the benefits of the family business, with his two grandsons helping out on weekends and school holidays.