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Growing maize for grain spreads risk between regions and crops

Don Morrow (left) and Shane Morrow with two of their collection of classic Corvettes.

Growing maize for grain spreads risk between regions and crops

2005/06 Season

Owners: Don and Shane Morrow
Farm location: South Auckland
Farm size: 30 hectares
Pioneer® brand hybrids grown: 34D71, 36B08
Number of seasons growing: 4

In the risky world of market gardening Pukekawa onion growers Don and Shane Morrow have found maize grain is a crop that plays a stable and valuable economic role in crop rotation.

There are not too many crops the fifth generation growers have not planted, and onions are now the business mainstay. High yields and relatively good returns are aided by the family’s interest in onion exporting company "New Zealand Growers".

Originally based in Pukekohe, today the Morrows own 88 hectares at Pukekawa and lease another 52 hectares nearby. Another 48 hectares at Tamahere in the Waikato helps achieve a timely spread for planting and harvesting with the onion crop.

Growing onions brings a risk of disease when they are repeatedly cropped in the same area. In the past Don and Shane would spell land for at least one season and sow it in mustard or oats, earning them nothing for that period.

Four years ago Don decided maize had to offer better opportunities than leaving the land fallow. They now plant maize for two years in the rotation offering an economic alternative and environmentally sustainable option to continuously cropping in onions and having to spend $500 a hectare spraying to avoid white-rot.

The heavy volcanic soil type at Pukekawa means an early harvest maize hybrid is desirable.

"If you don’t get your maize off by late March you simply won't be able to get all the ground work done for onion planting before it gets too wet."

For this reason the Morrows plant Pioneer® brand 36B08 in early September and aim to harvest by early March. The hybrid offers a good "easy care" agronomic package with good disease resistance and excellent establishment.

On the Tamahere country which is free draining sandy loam, Don uses the later maturing and newer hybrid Pioneer® brand 34D71, which he aims to harvest by later March.

The 2004-2005 season crop averaged 12.9 tonnes a hectare across the whole operation, in a difficult maize growing year. Last season Don and Shane achieved their best ever yield of 15 tonnes per hectare.

Don says the support from Pioneer has been excellent. Their timely information has been invaluable to a man who already knows much about the ins and outs of cropping.

With the maize in the ground Don finds time to indulge in his hobby, collecting classic American cars, particularly Corvettes. He has four in his garage ranging from 1958 to 1996. Travelling with other Pioneer growers to Iowa last year, he stopped in California to buy a 1958 El Camino in mint condition.

Shane has also travelled to the United States to harvest on broad-acre properties in Colorado. Don says he returned appreciating the yields that can be gained here and the simplicity of maize growing.

"We have to spray every week with onions. With maize, we plant it and basically shut the gate. If onions were as easy we would be able to retire!"