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Growers' skills deliver quality seed maize

Stuart Briant (left) and David Briant (right) with Pioneer® Field Manager John Tattersfield and dog Fizz on their farm in Gisborne.

Growers' skills deliver quality seed maize

2006/07 Season

Owners: Frank and David Briant
Farm location: Poverty Bay
Pioneer® brand hybrids grown: Pioneer parent seed
Number of seasons growing: 17

Mutual respect and strong friendships underpin many of the relationships between Pioneer® brand seeds and the Company's maize growers. This is particularly so with the Company's seed growers, a select group of Gisborne farmers upon whom much of the New Zealand maize industry relies.

Frank and David Briant of Patutahi typify the strength of these relationships. The Briants have grown Pioneer seed maize for 17 years, and are masters at the complex science and art of producing quality seed maize crops.

Cropping runs in the Briant family with their father Denny growing many commercial crops for Watties. His sons, Frank and David, returned home in the early 1970s to continue growing tomatoes, peas, beans and sweetcorn on contract for that company.

Today Frank's two sons, Stuart and Hamish, are involved in the operation with Stuart overseeing the machinery workshop, and Hamish involved in planting and harvesting.

David says the relationship with the production staff at Pioneer® brand seeds has made seed maize growing enjoyable over the last 17 years.

Good communication and respect from both parties is important in the seed maize business. Budget yield and agronomic advice on seed crops comes from the Company, while there is significant work to get conditions just right for planting.

Phil Evans, Seed Production Manager for Pioneer, says "it is the attention to detail before the crop even goes in the ground which underpins the Briants' success at growing seed maize."

David says "ground preparation has to be even more consistent than for commercial maize to give the parent seeds the maximum opportunity for rapid, strong emergence."

In seed maize production, four rows of female inbred seed are planted using a conventional four row planter. An inbred male row is then inter-planted between every fourth row of female using a purpose built single row planter. This revolutionary planting configuration has improved both seed yields and assisted with weed control.

To produce some hybrids, planting of the male plants may have to be delayed as late as when the third leaves are emerging on the female plants. "We have to follow Pioneer's advice and direction on the timing of these delays," says David.

Unlike commercial maize which is self pollinating, seed maize relies on cross pollinating the female plants with the pollen from the male plants.

Manual "detasseling" of the female plants in early summer allows the cross pollination to take place, resulting in the desired hybrid offspring seed.

Weather can complicate the timing between the female plants producing silks and the male plants shedding pollen. Adverse weather events around pollination can gravely affect resulting yields and are an accepted and inherent risk associated with growing seed maize.

Removing the male row after flowering also opens up the crop to heavier weed infestation, though a rotational growing programme helps minimise this.

"We try not to grow the same crop in the same paddock two years in a row, with the different sprays for different crops helping to keep on top of the weeds," says David.

Weed growth in seed crops are generally more of a problem because the inbred plants do not usually grow as tall as conventional maize, allowing more light to reach the soil base, encouraging weed growth.

Despite the inherent risks growing seed maize, David says the crop adds valued diversity to their farming business.

The seed maize harvest gets earlier every year, with maize picked at increasingly higher moisture to help protect the seed and preserve the inherent seed quality. An early harvest suits the Briants' winter cropping programme.

"Poverty Bay is an ideal region for growing seed maize and the future looks increasingly bright for the New Zealand maize industry," says David.