Forage maize has become a key part of feed rations for British dairy farmers looking to boost the productivity and profitability of their herds. Product development & technical manager for UK & Ireland, Don Pendergrast, explains why the rapid establishment of maize should be a primary consideration for dairy farmers.
“A successful harvest of forage maize provides dairy farmers with an attractive home-grown feed source thanks to its high energy and starch yield potential.
“Maize is high in metabolisable energy and starch content, both of which help to meet the demands of a lactating dairy cow. This is because well-nourished cows are better positioned to produce more milk. Maize in the diet ration not only increases milk yield, but it also increases the milk protein content.
“Forage maize reduces the reliance of bought in supplements to boost yield and milk quality, therefore improving overall profitability for growers. The high starch and sugar content of maize can also prevent energy loss by feeding the rumen bugs that convert forage into energy. This is essential for cows during calving, and to maintain a healthy body condition.”
Maize is a C4 crop which requires rapid emergence following germination, followed by consistent growth to ensure a good strong crop. Key factors for this include ensuring a healthy soil structure, sufficient nutrition and good availability of water. Without these key factors, crops may produce reasonable dry matter yields, but could have a poor grain fraction and therefore lower energy and starch content.
Rapid growth and establishment relies on access to water and nutrients through the plant’s root system; healthy roots should be a primary concern for those wanting to optimise water and nutritional uptake for their maize crop. Root development can be slow, particularly in the cooler weather conditions when maize is establishing in April and May. This means that rooting can be sub-optimal, impairing crop potential.
Although new varieties have improved the viability of growing maize in the UK, ensuring a well-developed healthy root system which can maximise nutrient and water uptake is one of the main ways that farmers can consistently improve their maize yield. In addition, soil should be well-structured, free from compaction and of an optimum Ph, allowing roots to access all the nutrition available. Controlling weeds, pests and diseases will also reduce competition for nutrients and protect the roots and leaves from damage above and below ground.
Trials have shown that the application of products which boost nutrient uptake, such as biostimulants, can also have a positive effect on the root mass of plants including maize. Biostimulants support the plant’s metabolism, facilitating nutrient and water absorption through a healthy root system.
Last year, an independent trial showed that biostimulant Rooter®, which is applied early post-emergence, improves root mass and development, and increases the shoot growth of maize by up to 35%.
“Increasing the root and shoot mass of maize will support the plant’s need for rapid growth early in the growth cycle, enable the plant to withstand potential pest and disease pressure, as well as support the production of a high grain fraction and energy content.”Another advantage to improved root anchorage, is that it potentially reduces the plant susceptibility to lodging, which can impede the speed of harvesting. In certain situations, lodging can also reduce yield, if cob drop occurs. The risk of soil contamination in the clamp is increased by lodged crop, which reduces quality and can lead to food rejection by the dairy cattle, added Mr Pendergrast.”