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Isolated maize cropping provides income - and a challenge

East Coast grain grower Neil Rogers, pictured at home: Makarori Beach, Gisborne.

Isolated maize cropping provides income - and a challenge

2008/09 Season

Owners: Neil Rogers
Farm location: East Coast and Bay of Plenty

Cropping some of the most isolated maize-growing land in the country provides an income as well as a challenge for Poverty Bay-based Neil Rogers. Neil grows maize on 500 ha of lease land in 15-20 blocks located from Te Kaha through to Tolaga Bay, a distance of more than 200 km.

“The isolation makes the job challenging and you need to be really organised,” says Neil. “If you need it, you don’t forget it.”

Neil, with the help of two staff, does all the crop work, including cultivation, planting, spraying and harvesting. He spends up to three months a year away from home and keeps the machinery, including three tractors, a planter and a combine, in Ruatoria.

Much of the base fertiliser is applied immediately after harvest. Neil ploughs and then tills the soils on the Opotiki side to prepare it for planting. Because the soils on the Gisborne side are heavier, they are normally disked, ripped and then tilled twice to create a good seedbed. To save time, no starter is used at planting and the crops’ nitrogen requirements are met with 300 kg/ha urea applied pre-plant and 150 kg/ha urea applied by a fixed wing plane in December.

Planting starts in mid September and goes through until the end of October, with rates varying from 85,000 to 100,000 seeds per ha. In the 2007/08 season, Neil planted Pioneer® brand 34D71 as the main crop with lesser areas of Pioneer® brand 33J24 and 34P88. This year he has planted the same hybrid combination.

“We have extremely high leaf disease pressure and also standability issues due to the extreme weather,” says Neil. “We are looking for hybrids that have the best stalk strength and disease resistance we can find.”

Neil uses a narrow row planter that has 12” and 18” row spacings.“The narrow rows help with weed control and the plants stand up better,” says Neil. “The combination of a 12” and an 18” row makes it easier to spray and we can harvest the crop with a standard 30” row head.”

Grain harvest starts around 10 April and finishes in the middle of June. The grain is all trucked to the Waikato or the Bay of Plenty to be dried. Last year’s crops yielded up to 15 t/ha with an average yield of around 11 t/ha.

Neil has noticed major changes in cropping practices and significant improvements in hybrids since he first started growing maize grain more than 20 years ago.

“We used to do a lot more cultivation passes and it was much more time-consuming than it is today,” says Neil.

“Pioneer maize hybrids have better disease resistance and perform best in our challenging environment.”

Pioneer Area Manager Phil Evans has worked with Neil for more than 15 years. It’s a partnership that has been beneficial for both parties. Neil plants two Pioneer hybrid evaluation trials each season, testing potential new Pioneer® brand hybrids in a very high disease pressure environment.

“Phil helps me to focus on achieving good yields and he knows my business as well as I do,” says Neil, who intends to keep growing maize well into the future.

“It’s a challenge because there are always different ways of doing things and we are always striving to do it better. But you’ve got to make a living somehow and I enjoy growing maize.”