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What it take to win the Paul Baker Cup

What it take to win the Paul Baker Cup

2021/22 Season

Owners: Stuart Gray
Farm location: Patutahi, Gisborne
Pioneer® brand hybrids grown: P1253 and P8805

Stuart, who farms 130 ha at Patutahi near Gisborne, says working with science, both above the soil and beneath it, is the driving force behind the success of his maize crop.

“Winning the national title means a lot,” Stuart says. “Having placed third in the competition last year, and third in a previous competition, it’s a nice pat on the back for the work we are doing on farm.”

The property comprises around 60% hill country and 40% fertile flat land. It was established as the Gisborne Town Milk supply farm in 1950, grew maize grain which was crib dried by Stuart’s father in the 1960’s, and was converted to drystock in 2008. Stuart plants as much maize as possible and runs around 250 ewes and 50 head of beef cattle on the hills.

The 36 ha of maize the Grays planted in the 2019-20 season averaged 18 t/ha and the paddock that grew the winning trial hybrid yielded 19.8 t/ha, a pleasing result given the summer drought.

“We didn’t treat the trial plot any differently to the rest of our maize crop, so I believe our healthy soil provided an excellent base for an exceptional new hybrid,” Stuart says.

In the 2020-21 season he planted 48 ha of maize for grain. The majority of which is made up of Pioneer® brand P1253, a proven performer on Stuart’s property which is destined for the food grade market. He also planted 7 ha of P8805 on a wetter part of the farm.

“We would rather plant a shorter maturity hybrid than take the risk of the autumn not being dry enough to get the crop off easily”.

Stuart has been a long-term supporter of the Pioneer brand.

“The Pioneer hybrids yield well, and the field support is excellent” he says.

Stuart attributes the consistent success of his maize crop to a combination of soil quality, planting date and careful nutrient management. Despite being an ‘old school farmer’, he is open to trialing new practices which are based on science and innovation.

“Growing maize is very scientific, and I am passionate about that science” he says.

Stuart does the groundwork and spraying himself each year. This helps to keep production costs low and gives him good control over the timeliness of operations. Paddocks are soil tested each year and a unique combination of macro and micronutrients are applied prior to planting in late September to early October. Lime, sourced from the quarry across the road, is applied at 2 t/ha every season.

The crop is planted with a Kinze planter which has been substantially modified by son Matthew who runs precision agriculture company Unearth Ag Ltd.

“We might have the oldest maize planter in Gisborne, but thanks to Matthew, it has the newest gear inside” says Stuart.

Weeds are controlled using a mix of pre and post emergent herbicides. The final spray, which occurs at gumboot height, is mixed with 5 l/ha of liquid seaweed. The crop is side-dressed with urea at knee height in midNovember. An air seeder attached to the sidedresser plants a mix of forage species between the maize rows. Last spring the paddocks were planted with a combination of globe or leafy turnips, vetch and clover.

“The aim is to have tucker for the ewes and lambs when the maize is harvested” says Stuart. “Establishing the winter crop at sidedressing means once the harvester has finished in the autumn, we don’t need to put machinery back into the paddock”.

This season the turnips have done well especially in the P8805 paddocks where the maize plants are not so tall, and more light reaches the ground. However, the clover has been less successful.

“Ideally we would like to have turnips for the sheep coupled with a legume crop to nourish the soil and provide nitrogen for the next maize crop” says Stuart. “We are always looking for ways to farm smarter and better, but it’s a work in progress”.