Lessons from the past
Date: 27 February 2018
As a young Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries consultant in Northland in the early 1980’s, I was intrigued how even in the toughest conditions (namely droughts caused by extreme La Nino weather events), some farmers still did well. One of the best in my region was a gnarly old chap with a wry smile. I remember asking him one day what the secret of farming in Northland was. He looked at me and said, “It’s simple son. A stack of silage and a barn of hay”. What he was saying was that a backup feed supply as a risk control measure made good economic sense.
There are a few other lessons I have learnt when I remember back to seasons like we are having. These are as follows:
Bank the feed
Unlike grazed forages, Maize silage is one of those feeds that it keeps well if you don’t need it. This year we have seen farmers being forced to feed their turnip crops off even though they have heaps of grass available. That’s the beauty of stored forages such as maize silage and grass silage. As long as the cover stays intact, once the maize silage has been ensiled, it will keep forever. If you don’t need to open the stack because you have enough grass, don’t open it. As sure as eggs, there will come a time sometime over the next 365 days where you will need that feed.
Honour the contract
Due to regular rain and warm growing conditions most farms now have heaps of grass. In past seasons some farms have been tempted to pull out of contracted maize silage simply because they currently have enough grass. In almost every situation, farmers who have done this have regretted the decision as sometime in the following season they wished they had honoured their contract and bought the feed. Remember consistent farming requires a good backup feed source and there is no better feed than maize silage.
Dry Matter doesn’t mean much
Five seasons ago we had a maize season similar to this one. It was hot and sunny and we had enough rain to grow magnificent maize. Many farmers signed contracts stipulating they didn’t want maize silage with dry matter over 40%, only to get maize with dry matters above this. I got many phone calls from both maize sellers and maize buyers worried about high dry matter maize despite the plant being relatively green at harvest. The answer was simple. Seasonal conditions resulted in the plant producing a lot of grain. As grain is high in dry matter and because grain made up a large part of the plant, the maize silage had a lot higher dry matter than normal. Typically we were seeing maize at 40%DM or higher, 35% starch and an ME level of 11.2-11.5mkme/kgDM. I suspect we may have one of those seasons.
Relax, the contractor will get there
I know that you are not like this, but it seems many farmers get wound up about things that they don’t need to. There has been a lot of heat this year. While we have found it pretty hard to cope with, the maize has absolutely loved it. The wet spring planting season was troublesome in many regions and many growers were worried that we would have another delayed harvest. As is often the case, the worry was pointless. The season meant that many farmers were reporting maize well above fence height at Christmas and our area managers are reporting that the harvest looks like it will be early and condensed.
This is something you may not want to hear. But just as the worry in the spring was pointless, worry now is just as pointless. As long as you have communicated with your contractor well in advance, he will get to your maize. The wet summer is likely to mean that the plant will stay greener for longer and will be laying down more starch while you wait. So relax, keep communicating, the contractor will get there.