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From deer to contract growing maize

From deer to contract growing maize

2013/14 Season

Owners: Alister & Lee McFadden
Farm location: Canterbury
Farm size: 262 ha
Pioneer® brand hybrids grown: 39T45 and 39G12

“It was time for a change” says Alister. “More and more of the land around us was being converted to dairy and we saw an opportunity to make a better return by grazing heifers and growing crops to supply feed to the dairy industry”.

The McFadden’s farm, which is on the Hinds- Mayfield irrigation scheme, grew its first 28.5 ha maize silage crop in the 2008-09 growing season.

“We were already growing wheat, and maize silage fitted into the crop rotation well” says Alister. Over the past six years the couple have increased maize acreage to meet local demand for silage.

In the 2013-14 season they have 49 ha in the ground and 60 ha will be planted in the coming spring. “Maize silage gives us a higher profit per hectare than other crop options, as long as we keep the yield up” says Alister. “There is plenty of market for it, in fact every year after we have finished harvesting we have people ringing up wanting maize silage”.

Alister aims to have the maize crops planted by 10 October so they are harvested late March to early April allowing timely winter crop establishment. Paddocks are cultivated and base fertiliser and lime are applied according to soil test results.

Alister is looking for hybrids that will produce a good drymatter yield in a short growing season. In the 2013-14 season he has planted Pioneer® brand 39T45 and 39G12.

“Pioneer continually tests new hybrids to ensure we get the highest yield” says Alister, “…and we get great technical backup from our local Pioneer representative”.

While selecting the right hybrid is critical, Alister believes a high plant population, good crop nutrition and excellent weed control are also keys to achieving high maize silage yields. Maize is planted into a well prepared seed bed at 120,000 seeds per hectare. The weed control programme consists of a glyphosate application prior to cultivation and a post-emergent spray of atrazine plus Emblem® with “plenty of water”.

Any necessary trace elements and 250 kg/ha sulphur-Super are applied pre-planting and crops are planted with a starter fertiliser of 250 kg/ha of Crop 15. Two applications of nitrogen are broadcast over the crop at gumboot height and just prior to row cover.

Crops are monitored on a daily basis to determine irrigation requirements.

“If the crop runs out of water it decreases the yield which costs us money” says Alister. “We don’t want to get below 20% of field capacity and so we typically apply 35-40mm of water each week”.

“Usually the extra maize sells before we have finished harvesting”.

Currently the maize is under Roto-Rainers, but in the 2014-15 season most of the crop will be planted under centre pivots to allow more even water application, especially as the plants reach their maximum height.

While most of the maize is contracted to regular customers, Alister also plants extra area for sale on the “spot” market.

“Usually the extra maize sells before we have finished harvesting” says Alister. “But if it doesn’t we can stack it and sell it over the winter and spring”.

The sale of the farm’s last stag early in 2014 signalled the end of an era for the McFaddens, but the couple have no regrets.

“The deer industry was kind to us for 38 years, but we are enjoying the challenge of doing something different and more diverse” says Alister. “Maize is a very satisfying crop to grow and we enjoy the challenge of trying to maximise crop yields and returns”.