The ongoing wet weather and a delayed maize harvest in some areas is having significant repercussions for soil health, soil nutrient losses as well as potential forage stock production for next year, says ForFarmers Forage Product Manager Mel Digger.
“Some farmers were able to complete some grass reseeding at the back end of the Autumn and others have been able to drill grass seed after their maize harvest.” However intense rain has affected some of those reseeds, delaying establishment and in the worst cases some being washed away altogether.
Soils left exposed after late-season maize harvesting become susceptible to erosion and nutrient loss during heavy rain, explains Mel. “When you lose soil from fields you also lose nutrients which has financial implications as they will need to be put back.”
The delay in the harvest not only affects the current crop but also poses challenges for subsequent operations and some farms haven’t been able to get autumn cereal seed in the ground. Waterlogged ground became difficult or impossible to access and any work on those fields risks compaction and future yield reduction.
“With difficulties over autumn crops being drilled – and problems with establishment of those that have been drilled – many will be looking to spring cropping instead. However, the circumstances last year meant that a lot of autumn cereal seed was produced so there wasn’t as much ground available for spring cereal seed.”
This has led to a decline in seed supplies, with notable reductions in barley (15% lower this year), beans (30% lower) and wheat (20% lower). Imported seed is therefore likely to be a necessity bringing an element of supply chain risk and cost increases warns Mel.
To avoid similar problems next year planning ahead and variety choice are vital, she advises. “Select for early maturing maize varieties so that you can harvest earlier and get crops in before the early Autumn.
“Evaluate conditions across the farm to ensure you grow maize on the most suitable fields, minimising risk of delayed harvests and erosion problems,” she added.
Cover crops are becoming so much more important as a tool for increasing resilience and sustainability, explains Mel. “They help prevent soil erosion and mitigate run off but also bring a host of other benefits including improving soil structure and fixing nitrogen.”
“While much of the weather-related challenges are out of our control, its vital to plan ahead to mitigate the risks where possible,” concludes Mel. “The ForFarmers team is always happy to advise with planning forage crops including variety choice so please don’t hesitate to get in touch.”