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No-till maize for lifestyle & proven returns

No-till maize for lifestyle & proven returns

2021/22 Season

Owners: Paul Bamforth
Farm location: Ruawai, Northland
Farm size: 380 ha
Pioneer® brand hybrids grown: P0937, P0640 & P9127

“We were feeding maize silage to the bulls and the local contractor asked me to grow 10 ha for grain” says Paul. “I saw the potential to diversify the farm and generate good returns with less physical work and the maize grain area just grew from there”.

Today 186 ha is planted in maize for grain with the remaining area used to support a low stocking rate, Friesian bull beef enterprise.

“We don’t feed any supplements or apply any nitrogen to grow grass for the bulls” says Paul. “It’s a simple basic system with minimal workload”

The maize area is planted on Kaipara marine clay, a sedimentary soil type which is prone to winter wetness but can become hard and dry in the summer. Ten years ago Paul moved to no-till maize and hasn’t looked back.

“It is less work, and the ground retains a lot more moisture which can be used by the maize crop over the summer” says Paul. “The soil condition has improved, and I have a lot of earthworms because it is not being disturbed”.

Paul plants the maize himself using a John Deere planter which has been retrofitted for no-till planting.

“A lot of my planting equipment comes from Precision Planting in the USA and they like to do out-of-season trials in New Zealand. The machinery is connected to the internet so the Precision Planting support staff can monitor how I am going in real time.”

Adaptions to the planter allow the monitoring of soil moisture. Planting depth is altered to ensure the best possible conditions for seed germination

Typically maize crops yield 14 t/ha, but the yield in some paddocks can be over 17 t/ha.

In the 2019-20 season Paul won the Auckland and North Regional Title in the Pioneer Maize Grain for Yield competition with a strip of Pioneer® brand P0937 which yielded 18.41 t/ ha. It wasn’t Paul’s first win in the competition, he had previously taken out the regional title with P1477W in 2017.

In the 2020-21 season Paul planted a large area of the winning hybrid P0937 companioned with P0640. He also planted P9127 which will be double cropped with barley

“We’ve grown barley for two seasons and think we can realistically achieve yields of up to 7 t/ha” says Paul. “It’s a nice addition to the cropping gross margin”.

As well as growing barley, Paul is trying a range of other winter cover crop options including wheat, vetch and clover.

“Because our yield potential is high, we apply quite a bit of nitrogen to the maize crops” says Paul. “Winter cover crops direct drilled without fertiliser immediately after grain harvest help mop up any leftover nitrogen in the soil, decreasing the risk of nitrate leaching”.

“It’s good to think about farming environmentally for the future,” says Paul. “The combination of no-till maize followed by a winter cover crop is hard to beat”.

Another big benefit of maize grain is the reduced workload it offers when compared to traditional livestock systems. Maize area is sprayed out in August or September and the crop is planted and weed sprayed in October to November.

“Then all we have to do is monitor the crop and watch it grow until harvest starts in April” says Paul.

“I’ve been to maize conferences and there are plenty of 80-year-olds who are still involved in the industry and growing a crop each year. Maize grain offers a great lifestyle with really good returns”.