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South Island farmer delivers impressive maize yield, despite tough climate

South Island farmer delivers impressive maize yield, despite tough climate

2015/16 Season

Owners: Phil and Jocelyn Riley
Farm location: Wangapeka Valley, Tapawera
Farm size: 370 ha
Herd size: 1030
Pioneer® brand hybrids grown: P7524

Farming in the Tasman district of the upper South Island is no easy feat because of the extreme weather. It has hot dry summers and early autumn frosts and, as Phil Riley has learned, you need to be prepared for anything the climate can throw at you.

Phil and his wife Jocelyn live in the Tapawera district, about 50 km as the crow flies southwest of Nelson, and have two farms in the region. Their original 370 ha farm, which they manage themselves, is situated in the alluvial Wangapeka valley and they have purchased a second 300 ha block nearby that they operate on a 50% share milking basis. “It’s beautiful country around here, not far from the start of the Wangapeka track, but it’s also pretty remote,” says Phil.

Because the dairy farms are situated on the river flats they can dry off quickly in summer so Phil has also managed to secure two other support blocks of 140 and 200 ha where he grows maize for silage and turnips for additional summer feed and winter stocks of kale.

Last year this setup allowed Phil to milk 980 cows on his own block and 780 cows on the other farm, producing 446,000 kgMS and 345,000 kgMS respectively.

For this year’s summer crop Phil got together with his local Pioneer representative Tony Pascoe and discussed what attributes they needed for next season’s maize crop. A high yield, with drought tolerance over the dry summer, was required, combined with a short maturity so it could be harvested before the early autumn frosts. They decided the P7524 maize hybrid was best suited for these conditions and, when it was harvested mid-March, it yielded an impressive 22.9 tDM/ha. As Phil says: “We got a bit lucky this summer because the rain came at just the right time.”

He was grateful Tony paid frequent visits nearing harvest time and subsequently took his rep’s advice to maximise the nutritional benefits of his silage by using the Pioneer 1132 inoculant. They discussed all of the options but, as Tony says: “Phil manages his silage stack so well he could focus on silage quality because he doesn’t have problems with overheating”.   

With limited irrigation on his farm, Phil has to reduce half of his herd to once-a-day milking after Christmas while, at the same time, using the turnips as a supplementary feed. Then, in autumn, the silage is used to extend the milking season and to increase cow condition for calving.

In the current economic conditions, Phil views his main objective as maintaining his farms as sustainable profitable entities and he sees maize silage as an integral part of achieving this goal. “It’s a reliable crop that allows me to keep my costs under control.” And even though the flat terrain means he has little scope to increase the available pasture, this year he has increased his milking herd on his family farm to 1030 cows.