Suffolk energy maize trials reveal ‘significant findings’, say agronomy experts Hutchinsons

Maize cobs. Picture: OFF THE SHELF IMAGES

Maize cobs. Picture: OFF THE SHELF IMAGES - Credit: Off the Shelf

Field trials taking place in Suffolk have revealed some “significant findings” on maximising returns for energy maize, according to agronomy experts.

Kiryon Skippen, Hutchinsons business development manager. Picture: OFF THE SHELF IMAGES

Kiryon Skippen, Hutchinsons business development manager. Picture: OFF THE SHELF IMAGES - Credit: Off the Shelf

Hutchinsons, which is conducting the trials at Great Livermere, near Bury St Edmunds, says interest in the crop has increased dramatically with the expansion of the biogas sector over recent years, with some 52,280ha of maize grown for anaerobic digestion (AD) last year, equivalent to almost one third of the total maize area.

The firm’s Kiryon Skippen said they have already revealed some significant findings that will push crop performance forward.

Trials have dispelled fears that narrow rows compromise root growth, and have in fact proved the opposite to be true, he says.

Crops sown on narrow (500mm) rows last year produced marginally bigger root balls that penetrated to greater depth than the conventional spacing. Plants were better able to access and retain moisture and nutrients, resulting in improved cob development and higher yield.

Sowing rows more closely together maximised land use efficiency, and weed control also improved.

Another area being investigated is the benefit of under-sowing maize with a cover crop to protect the light sandy loam soil from erosion and leaching over winter after maize is harvested.

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A grass and legume mix was broadcast into plots when maize plants were around knee-high, allowing enough time for the cover to establish properly while not competing with the crop.

“The cover grows underneath the maize and is ready to grow away as soon as the maize is cut, protecting the soil over the winter before a following spring crop is sown,” he says.

The approach is being repeated this season, with additional trials looking at how varying zinc and potash applications affects final yield.

A separate variety screen is also in place with 16 new and established energy maize varieties compared to see which offer the most consistent performance.

All plots are taken through to harvest, when crops are fully analysed for a range of factors from dry matter content to methane yield.

Hutchinsons said it hoped to help energy maize growers improve variety selection and crop agronomy.