Back To grow or not to grow

Date: 18 September 2017

A very wet winter has resulted in cows being stood off paddocks and being fed more supplements – thus the demand for maize this season is high.
Because of this high demand and short supply, the price of bought-in maize has started to rise, and many farmers are questioning whether they should be growing maize on farm rather than buying it in.

Despite the milk price forecast to be $6.75kg/MS (before dividends), it is still prone to fluctuation and farmers need to control their expenses to allow for that – a large part of which is lowering their supplementary feed bill.

Growing maize silage on farm is one way of achieving lowered farm expenses, as it can be an excellent way to provide large amounts of high-quality dry matter at a very cost-effective price.

The average cost of growing and harvesting, maize silage crops on farm, on paddocks that need renewing and yield 18-24tDM/ha, is around 16-21c/kgDM in the stack.

Growing costs can be reduced even further by growing maize in an effluent paddock, and additional fertiliser is rarely needed. This can decrease the cost of growing maize to 12-18c/kgDM.

With bought-in maize silage costing 28-34c/kgDM, growing maize on farm can look quite attractive.

Before you decide to jump in and grow maize on farm, there are a few things to consider.

Firstly, is the area you want to grow maize on in need of renovation, or is it already producing a lot of dry matter?

If a poorly performing paddock is growing 9tDM each year, but will grow 27tDM if planted in maize plus new grass, then it will be of benefit by 18tDM.

If it costs $3800/ha to grow and harvest maize, then this extra feed has cost 21c/kgDM, with the farmer maximizing their return from their high-value dairy land by harvesting more dry matter from every hectare.

However, if the paddock doesn’t need renewing and is currently growing 14tDM/ha, the net amount of feed grown on the paddock is only 13tDM/ha and the cost of that feed rises to 29c/kgDM. At this price, it is better to buy in maize silage as you are paying someone else to take the risk.

Secondly, it’s wise to investigate the chance of achieving the yield you have planned for. Yields can vary greatly depending on the season, and this has a significant impact on the profitability of your farm system. You may not get the amount of feed you need, or the price of your home-grown feed could become very high if your yield is low.

Thirdly, is there an area on farm that needs to be cropped to solve a problem? For example if your effluent or night paddocks have very high K levels, causing milk fever problems in early lactation, a crop of maize will solve this problem and so you may end up growing a maize crop on farm.

Finally, some farmers who grow maize simply can’t grow enough to feed their own livestock so still need to buy in some of their maize.

If you need 200tDM but can only grow 100tDM on your effluent paddocks, the local grower may offer maize silage at 32c/kgDM landed. If the feed you have grown has cost you 22c/kgDM, then the average feed cost across the total 200tDM is 27c/kgDM: a saving of around $10,000.

It is incredibly important that you run the numbers on your farm, considering all the factors before making the decision to either grow maize on farm, or buy it in.

Your farm consultant or the Pioneer team (0800 746 633) can help you generate these numbers so you can make an informed decision.