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Producing good maize silage is a team effort

Dairy Farmer Jeremy Bennett grows maize silage

Producing good maize silage is a team effort

For as long as Jeremy Bennett can remember, Benlee Farms has grown maize for supplementary feed. To successfully grow 115 hectares (ha) from hybrid selection to harvesting, Jeremy relies on a close working relationship with PGG Wrightson Technical Field Representative, Robbie Corrin.

Jeremy milks a herd of 1,600 cows and rears 280 replacement heifers annually, calving in spring and autumn. The maize is grown on a designated 39 ha run-off block as well as in two lots of 35 ha on the home farm.

The objectives are to offer the cows a mixed diet and to control feed costs says Jeremy. “Maize is high in carbohydrates and energy and complements the pasture diet well. We grow as much as possible.”

The cow’s diet depends on pasture composition; they are fed maize silage with palm kernel extract year-round on a covered feed pad.

At the start of each season, Jeremy sits down to plan his cropping programme with Robbie. They discuss varieties, what’s new to market and the previous year’s crop.

“We decide on hybrids based on the performance of last year’s crop, as well as digestibility and how fast the plants are out of the ground,” says Robbie. “Pioneer put a lot of research into their seed varieties which helps us make informed decisions.”

“The first maize is planted on the run-off. Selecting a shorter Pioneer 109 CRM hybrid, we aim to have this ready for autumn calving.

“The home farm, being hilly and exposed, requires a hardier variety. We do an early planting with a Pioneer’s 109CRM and a later planting with Pioneer’s P9911.”

Robbie walks the paddocks weekly to check on emergence, crop progress and advise on pest and weed control, plus nitrogen application.

“Communication is such a big thing with a crop of this size. We’re fortunate to have a great support team,” says Jeremy. “Robbie is great to run things past. He sees a lot of maize crops in the area and has a good handle on potential issues.

“Robbie’s input has been invaluable over the past five years,” Jeremy continues. “He gets across all our paddocks on a regular basis during the maize season. He then emails me a report with pictures of each block, issues he has found and his recommendations.”

The ultimate time for Jeremy to harvest the maize is at 33 to 36 percent of dry matter. Robbie keeps a close eye on how the crop is handling the heat and dry, and where the cobs are at.

“Sometimes a crop can turn quickly. If we harvest too late, it will affect the quality of the silage. Robbie’s management of the crop and communication is crucial at this point.”

Jeremy’s maize yields an average of about 20 to 21 tonne of dry matter per ha on the home farm and 25 tonne of dry matter per ha on the run-off, depending on the season.