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Agiraxx variety beats forage-maize trend in a year of growing disasters

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: January 30, 2013

Joe Church with a selection of the 150 black-and-whites his family milks near Highbridge in Somerset

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The maize-growing season in the South West was the worst for over 30 years, leaving many farmers worryingly short on forage.

Its implications are not only affecting feed stocks this winter, but the soil damage from enforced harvesting on wet fields has ramifications for the sowing of the 2013 crop.

Looking back, Terry Bratcher, of Bowerings Animal Feeds, said: "the season started well with most farmers sowing into good seedbeds, but the heavy rains in April caused soil capping. Seed germinated well, but couldn't penetrate the soil surface which turned like concrete on many farms. Any maize that did get through was crooked and very poor-looking."

Wet seedbeds in April and May then prevented contractors travelling on fields to apply herbicides, adding higher-than-usual weed burdens to compete with the lacklustre crops.

"With these conditions, complete crop failure has been all too common in the region this year and where crops have survived, they were severely stunted, with many standing crops barely reaching my waist," Mr Bratcher added. "Then the ground was so wet over October and November that contractors still couldn't get on to harvest."

The sunshine shortage was very apparent on all crops later in the growing season – with the end of the cobs white, showing that fertilisation had been incomplete.

In a normal year growers probably would not have bothered harvesting the many stunted and poorly developed crops, but this year farmers had no option but to harvest what they had because the forage was in their winter-feeding plans.

But it was not all gloom, said Mr Bratcher. The maize variety Agiraxx had been a successful common denominator on a number of his farms.

He explained: "Growers who have fared better in silage quality have been growing Agiraxx and I think it's because the variety has very good early vigour, which enabled seedlings to push through the capped soils. It is also early maturing and has very leafy and bulky growth characteristics. I also think its large cobs have led to significantly better silage analyses – particularly of starch content."

He said that while many farmers have maize silage with starch content in the low 20s, compared to the low 30s in a normal year, Agiraxx samples were in the very high 20s – very good given the lack of sunshine.

Steve Church farms near Highbridge where he and wife Sandy and son, Joe, milk 150 cows, have 100-head of followers and rear dairy-cross beef stores for fattening. The dairy herd yield average is 7,500 litres per cow per year at 4.20% butterfat and 3.25% protein. They sell just over one million litres of milk at 29ppl to Dairy Crest.

It was the first time Mr Church had grown Agiraxx. He said: "the silage results showed the variety performed well despite the weather. If you can get maize to perform this year you can get it to do so in any year."

He started feeding the maize in early November and the response in milk yield was immediate – the cows started averaging 250 litres more just from that one change in ration.

His ration is simple: a mix of 30% maize silage with 70% grass silage, plus a protein cake at a rate of four kilos per head a day.

He grew two fields of maize totalling 32 acres. He harvested 21 acres in early November and the remaining 11 acres in late November before the cobs were shed. Unusually for the season and the region, Mr Church is sure he will have sufficient forage for the whole winter, despite having had to feed most of his second-cut grass silage already.

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