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From dairy cows to maize grain

From dairy cows to maize grain

2014/15 Season

Owners: Paul & Susan Steele
Farm location: Nuhaka, Northern Hawke's Bay
Pioneer® brand hybrids grown: P0891, P1253, P0021

While the last few decades have seen the conversion of significant areas of arable land to dairying, Northern Hawke's bay farmers Paul and Susan Steele chose to go in the opposite direction when they sold their dairy farm to grow maize.

The couple, who farm at Nuhaka, between Gisborne and Wairoa, had been dairying for 25 years when they made the decision to sell the cows in 2010.

"Staff were always a problem, the kids were growing up and I was tied to the shed. We were ready to have a lifestyle change", says Paul.

"When we were dairying, we had also grown 5 or 6 ha of maize silage and 15 ha of grain maize, so switching to grow entirely maize was an obvious choice".

In their first season, the couple planted 70 ha in maize. After a successful crop, they decided to purchase a 320 ha farm with 120 ha of flat land, 1.5 km from the home farm in 2011.

"The returns from maize were far better than fattening sheep or cattle, and not far behind milking cows", says Paul. "In fact, a good maize crop can deliver as good a return as dairying, taking into account the much lower labour requirement".

Paddocks are disced twice and powerharrowed prior to planting, starting in late September through to the end of October.

In spring 2014, the couple purchased a 6 row planter and planted a mix of Pioneer® brand P0891 and P1253, with a smaller area of P0021.

"Buying the planter allowed the flexibility to plant as soon as paddocks were ready, weather permitting" says Paul.

"We choose longer maturity hybrids which will give us the higher yields. Our best yield so far is 19.4 t/ha, and our aim is to produce a 20 t/ha crop". Paul also contracts out, planting 100 ha for another local maize grower.

"We are really happy with the Pioneer hybrids and the service we get from our local Pioneer Area Manager, Simon Begley. He has a wealth of knowledge and is only a phone call away" says Paul.

This year, for the first time, all the Steele's maize seed was treated with insecticide, prior to planting.

"It meant we didn't have to monitor crops as intensely, and it took away the worry of being hit by insects such as Greasy Cutworm and Argentine Stem Weevil", says Paul. "It's cheap insurance".

They typically apply a starter fertiliser of 300 kg/ha cropzeal 16N at planting and side-dress with 300 kg/ha urea when plants are at the 5-6 leaf stage.

Using his own spray unit, Paul applies a pre-emergent spray of acetachlor and postemergent spray of atrazine plus nicosulfuron for weed control. Clopyralid is used as necessary to control Californian thistle and Bathurst burr.

Once the maize crop has been side-dressed in December, it needs no further attention.

"It's just a matter of shutting the gate and watching it grow", says Paul.

Harvest starts when the maize is under 20% moisture and usually lasts around a month. The crop is transported to Gisborne and sold for milling and stock feed.

After harvest, Paul applies glyphosate to those paddocks with summer grass and weeds and spreads 2 t/ha lime. They are disced, ripped and left to fallow. The stover breaks down over the winter, making it easier to cultivate in the spring.

In the future, Paul plans to fine-tune his system so he can achieve his goal of 20 t/ha.

"We are happy with the lifestyle, and the income maize provides", says Paul. "It's going well for us".