Maize drilling time approaches as soil temperatures in East Anglia rise

Lucy Smith-Reeve of Eye-based Grainseed Ltd testing soil temperature on a crop field to see whether

Lucy Smith-Reeve of Eye-based Grainseed Ltd testing soil temperature on a crop field to see whether it's ready for maize drilling. - Credit: Archant

A spell of warm weather in the region means soil temperatures are reaching the point at which maize drilling should start, an expert says.

Lucy Smith-Reeve of Eye-based seed merchants Grainseed Ltd said although many areas will be rapidly reaching the right temperatures, growers may need to hold back until they’re sure the warmth in the soil is there, particularly as temperatures are predicted to drop substantially just after Easter

“Maize is a subtropical crop and will only germinate at 10 - 12ºC and it’s best when this is on a rising scale,” she points out,” she said.

“To ensure successful establishment, therefore, you need soil temperatures of at least 10°C for four consecutive days at a depth of 10cm when taken at breakfast time.”

“Drilling before the soil has warmed sufficiently means you will suffer greater seed loss as the seed sits in the soil, especially if it turns wet and cold.”

Care also needs to be taken with pre-drilling cultivation this year because of the dry conditions, she stresses.

“It is important to conserve soil moisture so minimising soil compaction is critical in order to ensure optimum growth in the initial weeks after drilling.”

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Ploughing is still the preferred method of establishing the best seedbed for maize, she said.

“Heavy land really does benefit from being ploughed but the dry weather this year means it will need knocking down before it bakes out, so following with a press and cultivator tight to the plough is essential.

“If you are ploughing on lighter soils this is best done in front of the drill in order to conserve maximum soil moisture.”

Soil analysis should be carried out to ensure the crop gets the right nutrition, even if that is a basic test to assess pH and potash, and a placement fertiliser is a good insurance policy to help crops get away as quickly as possible, she advised.

“Running a full test at £50 and getting a full micronutrient analysis is well worth the extra cost so that bagged fertiliser and nutrient applications can be optimised.”

“Putting a source of phosphate, with a bit of nitrogen, down the spout allows the plants to immediately tap into the nutrients when they put the roots down.”

Weed control was another key area to consider, she said.

“Keeping the crop weed free for the first 6 weeks is important and this means spraying early whilst weeds are emerging. It’s a good idea to plan on most fields requiring two herbicide applications.

“If there is good soil moisture after drilling, then a pre-emergence application will effectively create a seal on the soil surface to act on the weeds as they penetrate through.”

Growers should use either Stomp or Wing-P, especially where the field is contract sprayed, she suggested.