Catchment Sensitive Farming officers have been working with farmers, the Maize Growers Association (MGA) and the Environment Agency to run trials across the South West looking at how to maximise the profitability of growing maize while minimizing the risk of harm to the environment.
Maize is often harvested late in the year when soils are generally wetter and more prone to compaction increasing the risk of runoff. Heavy machinery compacts the soil, squeezing out the natural pores and fissures which are found in good soil structure. This makes it more difficult for water to soak in.
“Water that isn’t absorbed flows into the nearest watercourse, taking sediment, pesticides and nutrients with it. This pollutes watercourses and bathing waters. These maize trials show that it is possible to produce profitable crops and improve soil condition,” said Paul Allen, Catchment Sensitive Farming Coordinator.
John Morgan, from the Maize Growers Association, said: “We’ve been pleased to assist with the maize trials. We strongly believe that maize has several environmental strengths, but we are keen to help farmers recognise the potential problems associated with the crop.”
The trials have taken place at three sites on different soil types across the region: Tipton St John on the River Otter in East Devon, Tregony in West Cornwall and Dorchester on the River Frome.
A number of demonstration plots were set up with different drilling dates, standard and early ripening maize varieties, different cultivation depths and techniques and varying fertiliser and manure levels.
Crops were being harvested either last week or this week, and the yields from each plot are being analysed. Early indications are that the earlier drilled maize (mid-April) will yield higher than the later drilled (mid-May). This will allow farmers a bigger window to establish a following crop or remove compaction before the wetter weather sets in and helping to reduce run off, soil erosion and flooding.
Mel Hall, South West regional director of the National Farmers Union, said: “Our members often have a very small window of opportunity to harvest their crops, and rely on contractors. It’s good to see evidence that drilling these early-ripening varieties of maize have produced profitable yields, allow farmers to get on to their fields before it gets too wet, and could give them more time to tackle any post harvest soil problems.”
Catchment Sensitive Farming, the MGA and the Environment Agency will be running follow-up trials looking at the impact of cultivation and early drilling of crops on the same sites over the winter.
The Environment Agency want farmers to get a better understanding of their land by examining soil structure.
The Environment Agency has produced a ThinkSoils booklet ‘Examining soil structure – a practical guide to digging a hole’ and video clip which explains what farmers should be looking for. The clip can be found on the Environment Agency website.