Farm Profiles View Latest Profiles

Back to farm profiles

Maize provides

Dean McConnell with Pioneer Area Manager Grant Matthews inspect Dean's crop of 38H20.

Maize provides "bullet-proof" crop option

2008/09 Season

Owners: Dean and Carol McConnell
Farm location: Hinds

Canterbury farmers Dean and Carol McConnell have experienced maize silage from both sides of the fence. Their 200 ha mixed cropping farm grows maize silage each season and sells it to their dairy operation. From a cropping perspective, maize provides reliable yields while, from a dairy perspective, it is a great option for putting weight on cows.

The McConnells and their three sons own a 240 ha (eff.) dairy operation at Hinds, 25 km south of Ashburton. The farm, which is managed by a 50:50 sharemilker, milks 750 Friesian-Jersey cows. In the 2007/08 season, production was 280,000 kgMS (1,167 kgMS/ha and 373 kgMS/cow).

The entire dairy farm is irrigated with approximately equal areas of pivot irrigation and border dyke flood irrigation.

"Now that the farm is irrigated we can grow plenty of grass during the summer," says Dean. "The challenge is keeping the weight on cows during the autumn and achieving good pasture utilisation in the winter."

For more than a decade the McConnells have been feeding maize silage in the autumn to help hold or increase cow condition score and lengthen the round prior to drying off.

"It’s easier to put the weight on the cows in the autumn than to dry them off and fatten them during the winter when it’s either cold and frosty or wet and muddy," says Dean.

"From the dairy farm’s perspective, maize silage is a reliable, guaranteed feed we can buy in at a fixed cost.

It contains high levels of carbohydrate and is excellent for putting weight on cows."

The herd is wintered on the cropping farm for 60 to 80 days. Calving starts 1 August and cows come back to the milking platform as springers. While the bulk of the maize silage is fed in the autumn, the balance is used to fill spring feed deficits.

Dean believes maize silage is a better option than cereal silage.

"I’m not a fan of cereal silage," he says. "Good cereal silage is OK but poor cereal silage is rubbish."

The maize silage is grown on the adjacent cropping farm and sold to the dairy unit. Dean looks for hybrids that will provide "high yields, good staygreen and excellent root and stalk strength to handle the wind." Last season, he planted 10.5 ha of Pioneer® brand 38H20 and 38F70. This year, he has planted 22 ha of Pioneer® brand 38H20 and any that is surplus to the dairy farm’s requirements will be sold.

"We get good service from our Pioneer Area Manager," says Dean. "He is always quick to get here if we need any help."

Dean uses Poncho®* treated maize seed and plants at 110,000 – 115,000 seeds/ha in mid October. He uses a starter fertiliser of 300 kg/ha Nitrophoska 12:10:10 and spins on urea at 200 kg/ha in early December and then again about three weeks later. The urea is irrigated in when necessary. Maize silage crops yield an average of 18 to 22 tDM/ha.

"From a grower’s perspective, maize is virtually bullet-proof," says Dean. "We can budget on achieving a consistent yield every season."

Once the maize silage is harvested, the area is planted into an autumn wheat crop.

"The land is not out of production for too long with maize silage," says Dean. "We find it works in well with the other crops we grow. It also helps spread the workload and the tractor and irrigation requirements."

*Registered trademark of Bayer CropScience.