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Case Study - Undersowing Maize in Shropshire

21/03/2019

Undersowing maize with a vigorous mix of late perennial ryegrass and advanced tall fescue is improving soil health and helping prevent soil and nutrient loss on a Shropshire farm.

 

 

JR and HJ Jones & Sons grows 46ha of forage maize as a cash crop on clay-loam soils at Hilley Farm, Pentre, supplying three large dairy units within a 10-mile radius of the farm.

 

“Maize has become a critical part of our business,” says Barry Jones, a partner in the family business. “It is less risky than winter cereals on our flood-plain land, doesn’t tie up money for as long and pays better, thanks to rising demand from dairy farmers and being underpinned by the AD market.”


The family plan to double the area down to maize, a decision made easier by a series of recent trials looking at undersowing the crop with grass.
The aim is to provide a cover over winter to help prevent soil and nutrient loss, while improving soil structure.


“We may not be allowed to leave bare stubbles over winter before long. Whether that happens or not, each year we are losing soil.
We need to address that – soil is a farm’s most important asset.”


Three years ago, on the advice of Agrovista technical manager Antony Wade and agronomist Rik Frampton, the farm set up some in-field trials to see if undersowing grass could help tackle the problem.


“We found that perennial ryegrass and tall fescue produced the best cover and also the best root mass,” says Barry.
“We continued the trial in 2017, and last year we did our own split field trial looking at two different seed mixtures sown at low rates.”


Two mixtures of late perennial ryegrass and advanced tall fescue were chosen – Enviro Max from Agrovista and a competitor brand supplied by a regional merchant.

Both were sown at 4kg/ac in June when the maize had 4-5 leaves by a contractor who had built his own disc-coulter air drill that sows three bands between the maize rows.


“There was a marked difference by maize harvest,” says Barry. “The Enviro Max looked very vigorous, despite the dry soils at sowing, and outperformed the other by a considerable margin, leaving a very even cover and excellent root structure.”


By the time the cover was sprayed off in March ahead of the next maize crop, it had developed a fibrous network of roots in the upper layers and strong deep roots, which helps the following maize crop put down roots more quickly.


All the farm’s maize area will be undersown with the Enviro Max mixture this season. “It’s already bought and in the shed,” says Barry.
“Its performance left me in no doubt I should stick with it.

 

  

“It not only provides peace of mind by stabilising the soil over winter and preserving nutrients but is also improving soil structure.


“That will help the crop, which is a lazy rooter, and will also help our eventual move to direct drilling, the obvious next step to help preserve and improve our soils.”

 

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