EVEN though persistent rainfall and overnight frosts are still fresh in the mind, nature has provided us all with a few timely reminders that the calendar is steadily on the move.

Daffodils and tulips have come and gone but our geraniums are now virtually in full flower. Both swallows and swifts arrived over a fortnight ago and our resident birds are already feeding their new families.

A lot of first cut silage has been taken over the last week and some of the early crop of lambs are ready to go.

Yes folks, spring is here and not only that, maize drilling is nearly over. We've experienced a pretty good May up to the time of writing (May 15) with a lot of maize being drilled into very good seedbeds and with last night's rainfall, the crop should be up and running very shortly.

Over the past few years, I have used the June Diary to report what we are doing with respect to maize trials and, in particular, the activity on which I propose to keep you up to speed with on a fairly regular basis which will be the progress of individual varieties on marginal sites. Having experienced a number of good to very good maize growing years since 2003, I have to admit to being a little nervous as to the performance of some so called early varieties if and when subjected to a more extreme year. Enter 2007. Those of you who grew maize on marginal sites in a marginal area last year are fully aware that some varieties really did outperform others - even though some were being marketed as being very early or had high starch capability.

Unfortunately, some of this new material did not like what nature threw at us during 2007 with results being somewhat disappointing to say the least and the general concensus of opinion was that we should continue with our maize trials, and with particular emphasis on the more marginal conditions as it was felt that it was those conditions that represented quite a sizeable proportion of the maize market in the west country.

I reported on 5 sites last year and am pleased to say that we are continuing with 4 of the original number, the only change being a move back to West Devon from the Ilfracombe site in North Devon.

Cornwall Farmers Site, Tregony, Nr. Truro. This is the fourth consecutive year that we have used this farm and grateful thanks, once again, goes to the Berridge Family.

13 varieties from 4 different plant breeders were drilled at 42,500 seeds per acre on 9th. May and within a range of maturity classes 5 to 11.

Although the Roseland peninsula can seem quite "tropical" at times, this site should still be interpreted as being marginal as on shore breezes can really influence temperatures.

Mole Valley Farmers Site, Newquay. Another marginal site which is being used for the second time this year - courtesy of the Rusden Family.

A total of 26 varieties from 8 different plant breeders were drilled at 42,500 seeds per acre on 6th. May - all of which were in maturity classes 5 to 11.

Advanta Site, West Devon. Our sincere thanks goes to Rodney Dymond of Battledown Contractors whose kind offer has allowed us to get back to the Newton St Petrock area of West Devon where we started to report on maize trials as far back as 1995. Although having a large contracting business, Rodney also farms in his own right, and this year offered us a field which, geographically, is very close to the farm where we conducted trials up to 2006 and therefore offers us a strong "flavour" of area consistency. The site is in a high rainfall area and is certainly marginal.

15 varieties from 6 different plant breeders were drilled at 40,000 seeds per acre on 13th. May and, as before, all within the maturity range of 5 to 11.

Mole Valley Farmers Site Bridgwater, Somerset. We having been using this farm for a long time now and I really must stress to Mike Pople and his family how much we appreciate all their help and professionalism. The site itself is on the Somerset Levels and therefore below sea level and even though this must be one of the most favourable sites in the area, a moist and peaty soil dictates that harvesting should be early - otherwise machinery will get stuck and bogged down.

A total of 24 varieties from 8 different plant breeders were drilled at 45,000 seeds per acre on 7th. May - all of which being within maturity classes 5 to 11.

Pearce Seeds Site, Rosedown, Dorset. Pearce Seeds virtually trade throughout the south west and their involvement with maize trials is certainly reflected in their sales of maize seed.

Their standard intermediate site at Rosedown was drilled on 8th. May at 45,000 seeds per acre with 20 varieties being used from 8 different plant breeders. In addition, further sites are being used with Crossways being also drilled on 8th. May and West Bourton on 13th. May, with Bapton and Bridport scheduled for drilling later this week.

In addition to these 5 forage maize trials, Pearce Seeds have also established two grain maize trials at Romsey and Melksham which were drilled on 12th. and 13th. May respectively.

Despite the extreme conditions of last year, I do tend to feel a note of cautious optimism over the maize market for 2008 with at least two leading maize retailers in the west country reporting a modest increase over last years sales. Furthermore, two local contractors in the area seem to be of the same opinion with each one saying that most of their customers have planted just a few acres more than last year - something that I feel is a useful "barometer" as farmers can, and sometimes do change their supplier from time to time, but they tend to stick with the same contractor.

And finally. Maize plantings so far have been drilled into a fine, warm seedbed and with last night's rainfall, the plants will be through in no time at all. But so will the weeds! You will all be out there in a few weeks time and sort the little blighters out, but, and here's the rub, don't forget the secondary flush - check your crop again during the third week of June.