With 2018 proving a challenging season for maize crops, growers are being encouraged to take a considered approach ahead of maize planting to ensure maximum return on investment.

“To ensure the best chance of producing maximum yields of high-quality forage, growers should consider challenges encountered last year in producing well-thought-out plans for this year’s crop,” says Dr Simon Pope, Wynnstay crop protection manager.

“Last season, many crops struggled with the dry conditions on light soil-types, where moisture deficiency and reduced nutrient availability affected yield. This was clearly demonstrated at one of Wynnstay’s maize observation sites in Cheshire, where a range of varieties were planted.

“By error, when the headland of the field was drilled, the seed in one drill-row was planted at a depth of four inches, compared to all the other units on the drill sowing seed at two inches deep. But the seed drilled deeper actually resulted in plants growing to a normal height whereas those drilled at the more usual depth of two inches only reached a height of about four feet. The deeper drilled plants had better access to moisture during establishment in the dry heat of last summer and so performed better,” he explains.

For the season ahead, Dr Pope advises basing drilling depth on soil conditions and moisture levels. “Carefully consider soil type and moisture availability on a field-by-field basis before planting, to help decide optimum seed depth. If there are no issues with soil moisture the seed should be sown at the conventional one and a half to two inches deep and this will result in more rapid emergence. However, if the soil is dry and the seed needs to be drilled at three inches deep to find moisture, then this will be beneficial.”

He also recommends sowing maize as soon as conditions permit. “The soil must be warm enough and the base temperature for maize to grow is 10oC. Although we’ve had variable weather conditions over the last few weeks, the soil usually reaches the required temperature somewhere around 20 April. However, as we approach this date, if the field conditions do not allow effective cultivations and the production of a good quality seed bed, drilling should be postponed until ground conditions improve.”

Dr Pope adds it is also worth considering seed size ahead of planting. “I’ve noted variations in seed size between different varieties and across different seed-lots. Although this won’t impact germination, it’s important for growers to discuss with their contractors how machinery is calibrated and set up, to ensure variability in seed size is accounted for to achieve the target seed rate and plant population.”