Drilling after maize could help ease forage shortages

Drilling after maize could help ease forage shortages24 August 2018

Establishing a ryegrass-based catch crop immediately after this season’s maize harvest could help to bridge forage gaps that are a concern on many Welsh farms following the summer drought. So says ProCam agronomist Gareth Williams, who believes conditions for drilling after maize could be more favourable than usual this year across areas of west and southern Wales where he operates.

“There are some excellent maize crops this year in parts of Pembrokeshire, Carmarthenshire and Ceredigion, where we had rainfall during the establishment phase and plenty of sunshine later on,” he reports. “Maize established under film has done particularly well, and some of these will be fit to harvest up to two weeks earlier than usual, therefore increasing the opportunities to establish a following catch crop.

“There’s also a likelihood that soils will remain warmer further into the autumn, following the heatwave, so that will create a longer sowing window, irrespective of maize harvest dates.

“Bumper maize crops, added to the prospect of a catch crop that offers additional grazing or an early silage cut next spring, should offer some optimism to those where forage stocks are depleted.”

Mr Williams, who joined ProChem (part of the ProCam business) earlier this year, is urging farmers to make the most of any autumn drilling opportunities by sowing a proven top performing mixture.

“Drill a crop that is going to maximise your returns from the acreage,” he says. “Something like Field Options’ Hurricane III mixture, which includes a new high-performance persistent and hardy diploid Westerwolds ryegrass, will deliver up to two tonnes more dry matter per hectare from a first cut next spring than a standard Italian ryegrass, for example.

“A ley like this would also offer flexibility, as could be kept for up to 18 months, delivering high yields of high quality forage throughout next year, or could be ploughed in after a single cut before then drilling maize again next year.”

Where forage supplies are less of an issue, Mr Williams says following maize with a cover crop is nevertheless good practice, for fertility building, soil conditioning and to suppress weeds.

“Establishing any kind of green cover after maize is better than leaving the soil bare,” he adds. “Some may have time to establish mustard as a cover crop, or a mixture of forage rye with winter vetch (N-Rich) could be a good option. N-Rich can be sown up until early October and will provide biomass in the spring that builds soil fertility, reduces nutrient leaching and helps to dry out the soil ahead of spring cultivations.”