A definitive growers guide, independent and unbiased to try and simplify the process of growing forage maize.

With maize fast becoming the chosen crop in the UK for feed and energy. We felt it was time to share some of the knowledge we have gained, to try to make it a less complicated process for farmers and growers to consistently grow high yielding crops of maize.

On hot summer days when grass is burning up, maize thrives with its deep roots and ability to use the green leaf area to photosynthesize as many heat units as possible from the sun. Maize is grown in some of the driest areas of the world and will always perform in a hot summer but not a drought. It is possible with the right management to plant rye after maize in October, silage the rye in the spring and plant maize immediately after the crop is removed to double crop the land, an extremely efficient use of the land.

Maize is the most economic crop to grow for forage, some find this hard to believe when the cost of growing the crop on rented ground is around £350 an acre. When all factors are considered, it becomes clear that maize is the most reliable source of energy for dairy producers, beef producers and anaerobic digestion plants. Delivering a tonne of dry matter for nearly 20% less cost than grass silage.

It is estimated that maize silage can be produced for £70/dry matter tonne compared with £85 / dry matter tonne of grass silage. The best grass leys can produce a megajoule for around 75 pence whereas maize is more likely to be 60 pence. 

The biggest difference is the fertiliser requirements. A crop of maize will use considerably less nitrogen to grow a crop, where three cuts of grass can use up to 250kg/hectare of nitrogen or 740kg/hectare of ammonium nitrate(AN). With the current price of £270 a tonne that is £200 ha/AN. It then needs a further 80kg/ha of potash costing an extra £35/hectare making the total fertiliser costs are in the excess of £235 per hectare.

Grass has to be cut, dried, raked, harvested, carted and clamped 3 times with costs of around £150 a hectare each time totalling £450/hectare and you need to pray for favourable weather. It is uncommon to end up with a clamp full of grass silage with no relevant feed value to your stock due to weather factors. With maize it is roughly known what the analysis will be.

With a fertiliser cost of £235/hectare, contractor costs of £450/hectare and rent at least £250 /hectare totalling £935 per hectare, grass is no longer a cheap crop by any means.

With the right guidance, growing maize can be made a whole lot more straight forward and less stressful than making good quality grass silage.