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Contract growing maize silage - a profitable option for drystock farmer

Dan Finlayson on his Ngahinapouri farm on the outskirts of Hamilton.

Contract growing maize silage - a profitable option for drystock farmer

2005/06 Season

Owners: Dan and Michelle Finlayson
Farm location: Ngahinapouri
Farm size: 170 hectares
Herd size: Maize silage 40 ha, Lucerne 20 ha

The desire to build a farm system that was both profitable and sustainable led Waikato drystock farmer Dan Finlayson to consider maize silage.

Dan, his wife Michelle and son Flynn (3) lease a 170 effective hectare farm at Ngahinapouri on the outskirts of Hamilton. After completing a Bachelor of Agriculture at Massey and managing several other farming operations, Dan took over the lease of the family farm in 1994.

"This land has been in the family for over 100 years" says Dan. "When I came home I looked at the gross margins for a range of cropping and livestock options. I wanted to build a farm system that was both profitable and sustainable. The gross margin for contract growing maize silage was attractive and it also gave me the opportunity to systematically regrass the farm. This has in turn increased pasture production and improved the profitability of our livestock operations."

Under the current system, 40 hectares of the farm is planted in Pioneer® brand maize silage each year. A further 20 hectares is planted in Pioneer® brand 54Q53 Lucerne. The maize and lucerne are harvested as silage and sold to neighbouring dairy farmers. Perennial ryegrass is established after maize silage harvest and used to help support the farm’s heifer grazing and bull beef operations.

Dan’s maize silage crops are impressive. Last year Pioneer® brand 34B23 produced a weighed average yield of 25 tDM/ha. "For us a combination of attention to detail, getting the basics right and ensuring we get the timing correct are the keys to achieving high yields" says Dan.

Permanent pasture is sprayed out in the first week of September each year allowing a three week window for the contractor to complete the groundwork and get the crop planted by the 1st October.

Soil tests are taken during the winter and the lime, base and starter fertiliser inputs are calculated taking account of soil nutrient status and crop requirements. Dan chooses a high yielding hybrid (for the last two seasons, Pioneer® brand 34B23) and plants it at 108,000 plants per hectare.

"Weed control is an important part of the process, especially since we are growing maize into paddocks that have come out of pasture" says Dan. "We try not to overdo the application of herbicides, but at the same time keep an eye on the crop and apply what is required to achieve effective weed control."

"An added benefit of our farm system is that it is reasonably easy for someone else to manage" says Dan. After working six months in Spain during 2004, Dan, Michelle and Flynn headed to England for two years in March 2006 for Michelle to take on the role of New Zealand’s Trade Commissioner to the United Kingdom.