DESPITE a significant acreage of maize having already been planted, there is still plenty of time for you to get your crop in the ground, writes Trevor Hayne.

In fact, I am still of the opinion that the first 10 days of May is the most optimum timing for maize drilling on the more marginal ground and I would urge you to delay drilling until you are happy with the conditions and not when you see the contractor working on neighbouring fields. Your most important contribution is seedbed preparation. Do not start working down until you are totally happy with the conditions. Heavier soils will naturally take that bit longer to dry out due to the extremes of last winter and digging a few exploratory holes will determine whether sub soiling is required or not. Prepare a seedbed where you can create a minimum tilth of four to five inches. Check the pH and correct up to 6.5.

Apply slurry to unworked land and once applied, plough down immediately, thus avoiding nutrient loss. Slurry is predominantly nitrogen and potash so care needs to be taken if you are considering applying any additional bagged fertilizer – especially ‘N’. You can easily overdo the nitrogen as excess will delay maturity. You may, however, benefit from an additional application of muriate of potash – soil analysis will help with your decision. An MAP type fertilizer applied at 50 to 75 kgs per acre ‘down the spout’ will invariably speed up the early vigour of the plant which will ultimately lead to better yields and is very cost effective. The more marginal the site, the lower the seed rate with 40,000 seeds per acre being just about right for the most marginal with 45,000 seeds for the most favourable.

If you havn’t already bought your seed, might I take this opportunity in suggesting that if you are proposing to grow maize on marginal (ish) sites, then your choice of varieties should be restricted to very earlies and even then, only those that have been thoroughly tried, tested and approved by either NIAB or Kingshay and, whilst on the subject of trials, please don’t forget the trials that I reported on during 2009, especially the more marginal site at Ashwater where Hawk, Sapphire, Destiny and Adept really did stand out as being extremely consistent.

Although it is now a fairly common site to see cows, sheep and lambs out grazing, it has to be said that there is precious little grass about. Normally, I would expect to see grass waving in the wind by mid April, but this year, it just isn’t there. The hard winter has caused some considerable damage to swards with plant death being common. This has resulted in swards being opened up and rendered them prone to invasion by both grass and broad leaved weeds – consequently both quantity and quality will have been severely effected.

Doing nothing is not an option. Firstly, ascertain whether the weed content is unacceptably high and therefore it’s a complete re-seed or whether the gaps have yet to be filled with weeds and an over-seed would suffice.

There are two basic over-seeding options – slot seeding with an Aitcheson drill or similar or grass harrow with an Opico type seed box – both of which being ‘fire engine’ jobs with timing being quite critical as trying to establish new grass in an existing sward is not easy so grazing off everything as tight as possible before you go in with your chosen way would be most beneficial. You may choose to do all your remedial work immediately after second cut silage when the existing grasses will have been checked and will take a few days in which to get going again by which time the new seeds will have had a good chance to germinate and establish. Either way, spraying off broad leaved weeds with an appropriate herbicide is an absolute must, so check with your agronomist first.

If you are over-seeding, use the larger seeded tetraploid ryegrasses as they germinate faster, compete more vigourously in the sward due to their enhanced early vigour and will end up contributing greatly to both increased yield and quality.

A biological seed treatment such as Headstart or Integral will also speed up germination. If you intend to keep the rejuvenated sward down for more than a couple of years, you may care to consider including white clover – an option being pelleted Cloverplus which comes ready treated with Headstart.

There is another option. Assuming that you have decided that the ley is totally clapped out, but a spring re-seed is just not for you – for various reasons – you could spray off everything, plough down and put in a crop of stubble turnips. They could be ready for grazing after 12 weeks of sowing so you could have a very useful summer grazing crop, the remnants of which could be ploughed down in late September ready for that all important conventional re-seed that you had been planning in the first place. And that last sentence of mine brings me on to what will be an extremely important topic. Something that you may not even be considering now, but if you don’t, believe me, you may come to regret not doing anything about it now – summer grazing. With winter kill being as prevalent as it has been, if you havn’t got that much grass for the spring, what on earth will the cows be eating during the summer, first cut silage? Just imagine next winter once again being in excess of 200 days and you have already made severe inroads into your first cut. At least you’ll be extremely popular with the feed companies.