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IT is September and I am sat at my desk desperately trying to find something positive to say about the year - like how good the cereal harvests were, the quality of grass silage being at an all time high and how such a wonderful summer has contributed to a very early maize harvest - and it is all true you know.

I hav not been drinking and the last time I looked out of my office window, there wasn't a queue of men in white coats waiting to take me off to the promised land. However, the small bit I forgot to mention was that although my quotes have been spot on, the year was 2006. Ouch!!

The Mole Valley Farmers site at Bridgwater was harvested on September 18 in 2006, with dry matters, even on the later material being in excess of 30 per cent. Last year, we harvested the plots on October 3, but following our visit last week, there were varietal differences of over 3 weeks - and this being on a favourable site.

There were only 4 varieties that appeared to be three to four weeks away, with most of the remaining 23 varieties appearing to be a fortnight later than that!

The Pearce Seeds site at Rosedown recorded dry matters of 30 per cent on September 25, 2006 with Robert Baker reporting that the same site could be up to four weeks later this year. He has been pleasantly surprised with cob maturity on the more favourable and free draining sites, but feels that the majority of their commercial sites will not be harvested until mid October.

The Mole Valley Farmers site at Newquay was harvested on October 1 last year and based on last weeks visit, the bulk of the 26 varieties under trial this year will not be ready until late October, with only three varieties showing a yellowing in the cob, and perhaps a fortnight earlier.

The Cornwall Farmers site at Truro was harvested on September 28 in 2006 and October 19 last year. Of the 13 varieties under trial, only one had a general yellowing throughout the cob and appeared to be a month away with a further three varieties perhaps a week behind - the remainder being at least two weeks later than that.

The Advanta site in North Devon is marginal and was chosen for that very reason. Unfortunately however, and in all probability due to the very wet and cool conditions throughout the summer, most of the plots have become infected with eyespot and subsequently, we have had to discard the site.

Should the plots become heavily infected and really starts to die off, we have already recommended that they should be harvested as soon as is practical when soil conditions permit with both stubbles and trash being immediately ploughed down and re-seeded.

Although there appeared to be huge differences in cob maturity - even within the same maturity class, I am reluctant to quote varietal names at this stage because some play catch-up during the final month much quicker than others and although some may appear to be dragging their heels a bit now, there is a possibility that the gap could be much closer by harvest.

I propose to quote individual varietal performances once we have all the yield and quality data to hand, but I have no doubt whatsoever that, like last year, some material, which is both perceived and marketed as being very early with good starch laydown has really suffered as a result of another poor year.

Whilst trying to evaluate this years crop, we have to be realistic and accept that although last year was the worst maize year for some time, 2008 looks to be even worse with most people suggesting that harvesting will be at least two weeks later.

Dr Martin Yeates of Kingshay Farming Trust says that their Gloucester site which is adjacent to the river Severn is almost always harvested before the Stoneleigh Dairy Event on September 17 but this year is likely to be two weeks later.

The cobs have fully pollinated but dry matters and starch levels are much lower than this time last year. There is also a significant amount of double cobbing with just a tinge of eyespot - and that's on a favourable site!!

The MGA's Simon Draper is equally concerned over the much later harvest this year saying that mid October would be the earliest that Cornwall and much of Devon would be taken with S Devon and mainstream sites being up to ten days earlier - and that's assuming that we have some sort of decent weather in the meantime.

This is just a general overview, but will also depend on variety, drilling date and soil type.

He also points out quite a severe infection of eyespot on marginal sites and strongly urges farmers to plough down the stubble and trash immediately after harvest. The MGA have produced an extremely useful article entitled Soil Management After Maize Harvest' which offers good all round advice, especially under conditions such as we are currently experiencing.

All in all it's pretty depressing really, but we've got to get on with it and make the best of what we've got. It is a year when we cannot afford to cut corners - attention to detail and good planning is essential if we are going to maximize the clamp value so here's a few ideas that might be useful to you.

Firstly,is fair to assume that dry matters will be lower this year so consider putting a deep layer of chopped straw in the bottom of the clamp in order to mop up some of the effluent.

Additives can be a useful tool when harvesting in good conditions but not an essential tool. However, if you anticipate your dry matters to be 30 per cent or lower, an additive becomes a must, with Fireguard from Alltech being one of a number of possibilities.

With so much eyespot around this year, especially on marginal sites, there is the possibility of mycotoxins and if either you or your agronomist suspect this a broad spectrum scientifically proven mycotoxin binder such as Mycosorb - again from Alltech - would be helpful.

Good clamp consolidation will preserve your starch levels with good sheeting and weighting vital to eliminate waste, especially top waste!!The quality of your maize will not be tip top this year, but careful planning and attention to detail will enable you to get the best of what you've got.

And finally. The maize is off, is in the clamp, fully consolidated and weighted down, but there's still another job to do. Realistically, what can you do with your maize field - assuming that it is now late October or even into November.

Firstly, and as a condition of the Single Farm Payment Scheme, any ruts made during the harvesting process must be cultivated out in order to prevent soil erosian and surface water run-off during the winter.

I know I am teaching granny to suck eggs, but if you have a sloping field, cultivate across the slope and encourage the water to soak into the soil as opposed to merely run over and off.

Secondly, what cropping options do you have? Realistically, I believe that there are three - winter wheat if you can still get the seed, rye corn and Italian Ryegrass, with the latter being what I believe is the best option. Tetraploids.

Do I detect a rather wry smile emanating from the Aberystwyth area?

This will give you enhanced seedbed vigour and because the seed size is larger than that of a diploid, I would recommend a sowing rate of 16 kgs per acre..