Carlisle maize trials target new ways to boost yields

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  • Maize growers and contractors from across the northwest got an insight into the latest varieties and growing techniques when Hutchinsons opened the doors to its Carlisle Regional Technology Centre in Cumbria this month

It is the 12th year that Smalmstown Farm has hosted the maize trials, which are tailored to finding new ways of maximising the output of maize grown under film and open ground in the more marginal growing conditions often experienced in northern and western parts of the country.

“Although conditions have generally been pretty good this year, our climate in this area can be less conducive to warm-season crops,” explains Hutchinsons agronomist Jim Clark.

“Many growers establish maize under film to mitigate some of the early season risks from cooler temperatures in spring, but the technique creates its own challenges and requires considerable investment, so maximising crop output is vital to secure the future of maize growing in such areas.”

One feature that generated particular interest among visitors to the event on 15 September was the trial of crops established under a new narrow-row version of a 100% biodegradable film.

Mr Clark said plots grown under the standard double-row Bio film system had performed best in 2020 and visually plants looked bigger this year, possibly because the faster film breakdown meant developing plants were not being held back by film sitting over the leaves.

However, with an upfront cost of around £60/acre more than conventional film, he acknowledged the system was more expensive, so was keen to trial the narrow-row version to reduce costs.

“We like the fact that it uses less film, is better for weed control and for sowing grass into, however I’m not convinced crops have the same bulk.”

Soil temperature assessments earlier this season indicated narrow row plots were 4-5C cooler than soil under the standard double-row film, which may have slowed crop development, he said.

“They were all sown on the same day and all came up quickly as there was moisture in the soil. However once we got to about week three, differences started to emerge when the double-row maize seemed to grow away faster. It’ll be interesting to see whether that difference shows up in yields at harvest.”

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