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ALTHOUGH last winter was a somewhat prolonged period of wet and cold weather – the traditional 200 days being exceeded in several cases – the sudden and rather unexpected

dry April proved an absolute bonus. Soils started to dry out and suddenly, farmers began to panic – “Where’s the plough?’’ some demanded. Sniffer dogs were duly despatched to investigate piles of stinging nettles in the hope that this valuable piece of virtual redundant machinery might be located. For hours on end, farmyards and outlying areas were pored over by hordes of finely tuned noses to the point that suspicions were aroused within groups of anti hunt supporters, who naturally assumed that the fox population had exploded on certain farms. Satellite photographs were closely examined for clues as to the plough’s whereabouts but I am delighted to report that all these efforts were duly rewarded – the plough was found, the ground worked down, cultivated and all the maize – including the trial sites that I have been reporting on for years – have been drilled. Although last year turned out to be a good year for maize growers, this year’s market, for some as yet unexplained reason, is down – probably by as much as 5 per cent - and that’s about 17,500 acres. If a downturn in the market followed a bad year, I could understand the move – but a downturn after a good year just doesn’t make sense. That’s three things now that I could never quite understand – farmers buying decisions, my golf game and…women.

They’re all up there somewhere in the proverbial basket of unexplained mysteries where I haven’t got a hope in hell of understanding any of them. Logic just doesn’t seem to enter the equation.

Last year, I reported on seven sites throughout the south west where plant breeders Limagrain were working with individual agricultural distributors and although three of the locations have been changed this year, I am delighted to report that Limagrain have once again requested that I report on a periodic basis and along the same format that I have been doing over the past few years. Cornwall Farmers Site, Tregony, Nr. Truro: Once again, I express grateful thanks to the Berridge family for their continued support in this project.

Eight varieties were drilled on May 5, at 43,000 seeds per acre within a maturity class range of six to 10 – material coming from two breeders.

Mole Valley Farmers Site, N. Cornwall: Although farmer Graham Duke has once again kindly agreed to the trial being laid down for a further year, the location has been moved from a rather favourable site adjacent to the river Tamar to a more marginal area near Whitstone. Twenty one varieties were drilled on May 10 at 43,000 seeds per acre – the maturity class range being 6 to 13 – material coming from four breeders. MAP was used ‘down the spout’.

Cornwall Farmers Site, Ashwater, W Devon: This is the same field that was used last year and thanks is duly offered to Adrian Mitchell. The field can only be described as being marginal and is another golden opportunity for so called very early varieties to really justify this description. Eight varieties were drilled on April 27 at 42,000 seeds per acre – with the maturity class being six to 10. Material from two breeders were used with MAP being applied ‘down the spout.

Cornwall Farmers Site, Buckfastleigh, S. Devon: A change in location this year having moved from an intermediate site near Kingsbridge last year to this year’s site at Buckfastleigh, which lies on the southern edge of Dartmoor and, as such, is more marginal. Eight varieties were drilled on May 7, using the same material and breeders as the other two Cornwall Farmers’ sites.

Mole Valley Farmers Site, Bridgwater, Somerset: Farmer Mike Pople has been extremely supportive over the years and grateful thanks is once again extended. Twenty-eight varieties from four different plant breeders were drilled on May 6, at 47,000 seeds per acre – all within a maturity class range of five to 13. As previously described, this is an extremely favourable site lying as it does on a peaty soil and at sea level.

Mole Valley Farmers Site, Dorchester, Dorset: Grateful thanks to Kingston Maurwood College who once again, have kindly ‘’donated’’ the trial site this year. An intermediate site which saw twenty five varieties from four different plant breeders drilled on May 5, at 45,000 seeds per acre – all within a maturity class range of six to 13.

Limagrain/Pickards Site, S. Molton, N. Devon: Last year was the first time that I had been given the opportunity to report in depth on a maize under plastic trial and due to so much positive comment and response – not just in the N Devon area – it was decided that a follow-up was both appropriate and necessary, but, this year, the most expansive in the Westcountry - albeit on a slightly different location near South Molton.

Fourteen varieties were drilled at four rows per variety with a further twenty two varieties in two row plots – drilling date being April 16 – material coming from a chosen selection from Limagrain’s UK and European varietal portfolio.

Limagrain Site, Rilla Mill, N. Cornwall: This is the first time that Limagrain (or previously Advanta) has used a comprehensive trial site in Cornwall, with the actual site being chosen due to it being extremely representative of the marginal growing conditions in both Devon and Cornwall.

The site is on the edge of Bodmin Moor and lies around 325 ft above sea level. There are over 150 varieties being replicated on over 450 plots with observation plots being open to both trade and farmers alike on given days throughout the season. The material used includes all the varieties on the NIAB Recommended List plus those pre-commercial varieties that will be up for recommendation over the next couple of years. Plots were drilled on May 12.

Pearce Seeds Sites: Last year, this Dorset based company really went to town with several trials in differing situations and, according to Robert Baker – Pearce Seeds Trials Officer – this year will be no different with six sites to report on.

Melksham: A Grain Maize Trial on a favourable site at 100ft. Drilled 28/04.

Sturminster Newton: An intermediate site with a full range of maturity classes and drilled 28/04.

Chard: A marginal site trialling just early material. Drilled 4/05.

Rosedown: Theses plots are adjacent to their Head Office and have a full range of maturity classes for observation as well as yield and feed value figures. An intermediate site which was drilled 5/05. Will be open to both farmers and trade on specific Open Days.

Yeovil: A fully replicated site featuring a full range of maturity classes on a favourable site. Drilled 7/05.

Bridport: A favourable site that features mostly later material. Drilled 12/05.