Back Maize lowers costs, increases pasture harvest

Date: 14 April 2016

Waikato farmers Noldy and Bev Rust have been feeding maize silage for the past decade and they are convinced it has a long-term place in their farm system even at lower payouts.

Noldy (who featured in a Pioneer® brand maize promotional campaign in 2007) and his wife Bev are milking around 200 cows on 52 ha (eff.) at Te Pahu in the western Waikato. For the past five seasons the farm has been run by a manager while Noldy works for Pioneer® brand products as Area Manager for King Country. He is also chairman of the Small Herds Association (SMASH).

“I started working for Pioneer part-time while I was recovering from shoulder surgery” says Noldy. “I liked it so much we decided to put a manager on the farm so I could move into a full-time role”.

In the 2014-15 season their Friesian and Friesian-cross herd produced 91,000 kgMS (1750 kgMS/ha and 460 kgMS/cow) and in the 2015-16 season they are on track to produce 92,000 kgMS.

The farm is a higher input system with around 3 tDM/cow of “supplements” being fed in the 2014-15 season. This comprised of 1.6 tDM maize silage, 1 tDM/cow PKE and 0.4 tDM of pasture silage, crops and off-farm grazing. In the 2014-15 season their cost of production was $4.28/kgMS and Noldy predicts it will drop to $3.80/kgMS in 15-16.

“Our cost per kilogram milksolids is consistently low because we grow and harvest a lot of grass and we use low cost, home-grown supplements like maize silage and Bettagraze forage sorghum to support a high stocking rate and produce a lot of milk”.

Ten hectares of the farm’s maize silage is grown on a run-off while another 4 ha is grown on farm as part of the pasture renewal programme. Paddocks are sprayed out in the autumn and planted in an annual grass for the winter prior to maize establishment.

“We get better pastures because we can knock out weeds and there is less insect pressure on the seedling grass” says Noldy. “Feeding maize silage on the feed-pad allows us to manage pasture residuals and eliminate pasture damage caused by overgrazing and pugging”.

The result is higher quality pastures which last longer. The couple have recently won the Pasture Persistence and Performance competition for the best performing 3 year old plus pasture. The winning paddock was regrassed 12 years ago.

The low payout has led to a few changes in the Rusts system. They have reduced herd testing, decreased the R & M budget and lowered PKE inputs by around 500 kgDM/cow.

“Good summer rainfall has given us more feed on the farm than normal. We will either milk the empties and late calvers through June to increase milk income or further reduce costs by buying even less palm kernel”.

They are trialling a couple of paddocks of Pioneer® brand P0791 maize planted through a conventional drill for greenfeed.

“The benefit of planting a straight hybrid rather than a blend is that the surplus can be ensiled as maize silage”.

The use of sexed semen and a longer AI period has generated surplus heifer calves which will be sold to China to increase income from stock sales.

“It’s all about trying to fine-tune our system rather than making massive changes” says Noldy. “We have found a system that delivers high income in the good years and allows us to survive the not so good ones”.