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Maize Underpins Beef Finishing Diet For North Yorkshire Unit

Updated: Apr 23

A male and female farmer stood at the farm

Adam and Kerry Sewell's mixed farm near Scotch Corner includes arable crops, sheep and a beef finishing unit.

A male farmer reaching out to his cows

Despite the farm's northerly location, last year's crop of Dignity maize produced 20 tonnes/acre fresh weight.

A row of cows with some feeding

Maize makes up a significant proportion of the beef finishing ration at Westfield Farm.

Growing maize successfully as far north as Scotch Corner, without the aid of film, requires a combination of experience and the right variety.


Add in optimum conditions around establishment, and yields like the 20 tonnes/acre fresh weight achieved by Adam Sewell’s 2023 crop are possible.


The bumper crop will make up a significant proportion of the beef finishing ration at Westfield Farm, South Cowton, and – if possible – Adam will double his maize acreage in 2024.


“We grow maize as part of our arable rotation,” Adam explains, “with the biggest limitation to how much maize we drill being the availability of the right land to grow it on. Maize is a valuable part of our beef finishing system, so we’re keen to grow more when and where we can.


“We typically expect to achieve between 15 and 16 tonnes per acre, but conditions have just fallen right this year and we’ve been amazed by how well it has yielded.”


For the past two years Adam has grown the Limagrain variety Dignity, supplied by Jo Holmes of ACT. A very early variety suitable for growing in marginal maize growing areas, Dignity is highly ranked for its yield potential.


“This year’s maize, which was harvested around 20th October, followed a cover crop of westerwold ryegrass, which was drilled into a cereal stubble last autumn,” Adam explains. “We grazed our sheep on the ryegrass ley over the winter and took a cut of silage in April before spreading a good amount of muck on the aftermath.


“Conditions were very wet when we were spreading muck, but the ground dried out sufficiently in time to plough and power harrow and we drilled the maize on the tenth of May. We had a warm and dry June and then enough rain in July, so an ideal set of conditions for the maize to get a good start.”


Adam has his own maize drill, mounted on a power harrow, and has gained a lot of experience over the years drilling as a contractor.


“I’ve learned that it’s generally not a good idea trying to go too early with maize,” he says. “Instead, it’s far better to wait until the soil has warmed up, which is usually into May this far north.


“We also find our maize drill mounted on a power harrow works really well. We can achieve far better consistency of establishment across the rows with this system.”


Di-ammonium phosphate (DAP) is usually applied down the spout at drilling, but this year Adam has experimented by drilling half of his crop without. He’s seen little difference, so may consider growing maize without DAP in the future. He does, however, see a benefit from Maize Boost, a fast-acting foliar phosphate with zinc, magnesium, and potash, which is sprayed onto the crop before canopy closure.


“We do also apply herbicides, but generally our crops are pretty clean as we’re not growing maize continuously,” he adds.


Beef finishing is Adam’s primary enterprise, alongside his sheep, arable, and contracting work. He’s buying in beef cross cattle – predominantly Belgian Blue crosses from dairy herds – at around five months of age, and taking them through to finish at a carcase weight of about 340kg at 18-19 months.


“Our finishing ration is typically 7kg maize, 8kg wheat, 2.5kg grass silage and 2.5kg biscuit meal,” he explains. “We’re managing to avoid the need to buy in protein as there’s sufficient in our grass silage, with the maize element of the diet boosting energy levels. Cattle will go onto this ration at about 15 months of age, and we’ll achieve average daily growth rates of 1.5kg/day for the period through to finishing.”


With Adam aiming to double his maize next year, growing Dignity again will ensure there is no shortage of high energy feed for the cattle going forward.


“Dignity has shown this year that it can perform exceptionally well in this northerly location, backing up the independent trial data,” concludes Jo Holmes. “It has certainly been in front of crops of a similar maturity class and is a significant step on from the varieties it has replaced.


“It’s good news for farmers operating this far north that there are opportunities to grow their own high energy crops, consistently and reliably.”

Article written by Farmers Guardian.

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