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Maize Crop a Key Part of Business Diversity

Maize Crop a Key Part of Business Diversity

2020/21 Season

Owners: Isaac and Ashley Higham
Farm location: Helensville, Auckland
Farm size: 1300ha
Herd size: 1877 cows across beef, breeding and dairy
Pioneer® brand hybrids grown: P0640 and P0364

For the Higham family of Helensville, the introduction of a maize grain crop 18 years ago got them started on a journey to a truly diverse farm business that is flexible, enjoyable and successful.

Isaac Higham, with wife Ashley and parents Noel and Janet Higham, farm 1,300 ha at South Head. Their farming enterprise has many strings to its bow: in addition to the 140 ha maize crop the farm also comprises a 306-strong dairy herd, 1,206 head of beef cattle, 365 Hereford breeding stock, and 8 ha planted in 40,000 Christmas trees per year.

Isaac, the third generation to live and work on farm, says they have been growing a maize grain crop on farm since 2002 when their merchant representative encouraged them to diversify to spread cashflow.

“At the time we were predominantly farming beef and we only had two income occasions, as we sold Hereford bulls to the dairy industry as well,” Isaac says.

This past season’s maize crop was predominantly Pioneer brand P0640 and P0362, chosen on the recommendation of their Pioneer Grain Account Manager George Gray, using data from hybrid trials done on their own farm and other farms in the area.

The grain crop is harvested in early March. In an average year the yield is around 12 t/ha, with 14 t/ha being achieved in the 2019 harvest.

While the majority of their maize is sold on contract, this season the Highams retained 130 tonnes of the grain which they had blended and pelleted by a local feed manufacturer and returned to the farm to feed to their dairy herd.

“The pellets are made up of 60% of our own maize, which is the maximum grain content we can use in pellets. Broll is used as a binder and we also add Dried Distillers Grain (DDG) to lift the protein content. The rest is made up of minerals and molasses,” says Janet.

“By feeding pellets we know exactly what each cow is getting in every bite. Whilst it is more expensive, the upside is the grain is better utilised when ‘cooked’ into the pellet.”

Isaac says he prefers the straightforward method of in-shed feeding maize grain.

“In-shed feeding has less set-up costs than a feed pad for maize silage. It also requires less labour and machinery.” He says.

“It has also made it easier to feed the herd minerals each day, as well as keeping condition on cows at mating time when we are traditionally struggling to do so.” Isaac says.

During the 2018-19 season, the Highams peak-milked 295 cows on the 150 ha milking platform, and produced 80,738 kgMS, or 273 kgMS/cow.

In the 2019-20 season they peak-milked 306 cows on the same platform and had reached 100,568 kgMS (329 kgMS/cow) by the end of March despite drought conditions. At the same time last year, they had only reached 76,818 kgMS.

Janet says they attribute the 33% increase in production to a combination of in-shed feeding and ample good water.

“This season we put in a new water system as our previous water supply was poor; cows were not only often running low but would reject the water until they simply had to drink,” she says.

“Having good water at an acceptable volume will have made a significant difference to milk production on its own, increased further by the introduction of inshed feeding.”

To further increase profitability and sustainability, the family has spent the last four years experimenting with direct drilling, gradually increasing the area of no-till paddocks each year.

“We initially looked at this as a way to save money – by needing less tractor hours to prepare the soil – but once we started looking at the practice more closely, we found there were a lot of soil health benefits too,” Isaac says.

“The soil structure, worm life and organic matter is better in the no-till paddocks. We want the land to still be good to crop in 50 to 100 years’ time.”

Isaac says the yields from the conventionally farmed paddocks and the no-till paddocks are similar, but they can “afford” to lose a little yield on the no-till paddocks as the growing costs are lower.

“We feel confident to add another 100 ha of no-till next year,” he says.

The 2019-20 season was challenging for the Highams, with yields well down on previous seasons due to the severe drought.

“We planted early October and received only 40 mm of rain in December, and that was it,” Isaac says.

“We planted two hybrid trials, one conventionally cultivated and the other no-till, so it will be interesting to see which one did better in the drought.”

saac says the Higham family has always planted Pioneer brand maize seed, and their relationship is built on reciprocal loyalty.

“We have loyalty to Pioneer, for the loyalty they have shown us,” Isaac says.

“George Gray comes up to the farm regularly to check on the crop and give advice as needed”.

“The support the Pioneer team gives us will ensure we stay with them for years to come.”