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Maize Drilling - why the rush?

Over the last few weeks, we have seen a start to the maize drilling campaign around the South West. However, recent data from the Maize Growers Association (MGA) suggests that current conditions might not be the best thing for the crop or your yields.


When is the right time to drill?


The aim is to drill maize once soil temperatures have been at 8-10oC and rising for at least 7 days. The data from the MGA indicates that none of their focus areas in the South West are currently suitable for drilling.


With frosty mornings still a regular occurrence, any ploughed ground will struggle to sustain the required temperatures - making a cold seedbed for any crops drilled.


What are the consequences of drilling early?


Drilling too early is likely to affect germination and establishment of the crop due to cold soils. If germination is poor, then crops wills struggle to put down sufficient roots to sustain growth and therefore yield.


With cold nights and a lack of rain looking to continue for at least the next fortnight, any crops that do germinate above the surface could be in for a hard start.


If crops germinate into a cold and unfavourable conditions – they will be under some considerable stress. This can be seen in early crops by a purpling of leaves (a cold stress indicator). Other stress factors can include variable soil conditions, seed placement, compaction, fertiliser placement, and amounts of crop residue.


If these signs of stress are seen in crops, then not only is growth stunted, but the crops are likely to have a reduced yield at harvest time due to the time taken for plants to recover.


Is early drilling worth the risk?


In most circumstances – no.


Maize is one of the most expensive forage crops to grow and a lot of work goes into site/variety selection and seedbed preparations before even considering drilling the crop.


There might be an argument for drilling maize under plastic on land that has the potential to become problematic at harvesting. However, a considerable yield boost is required to pay for higher drilling costs.

This maize growing season with weather set to be stable for at least the rest of April, maximising soil conditions before drilling could be the difference between a successful maize harvest or having to purchase extra concentrate feeds next winter.


Our recommendation is to wait until soil temperatures reach at least 8oC on your own farm for a minimum of 7 days – this will probably mean no crops to be drilled before the 28th of April.