Maize maker

Making more maize with less moisture

Dairy
MAIZE MAKER: Wade Theodore, Jaryd Leblanc, Wayne Bowden and Hayden Bowden of Bowden's Agricultural Contracting with the strip till planter.

MAIZE MAKER: Wade Theodore, Jaryd Leblanc, Wayne Bowden and Hayden Bowden of Bowden's Agricultural Contracting with the strip till planter.

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Maize crops can be sown in medium rainfall dryland or irrigated paddocks just two weeks after silage and spraying, thanks to a monster three-in-one machine created by Gippsland father and son team, Wayne and Hayden Bowden.

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Maize crops can be sown in medium rainfall dryland or irrigated paddocks just two weeks after silage and spraying, thanks to a monster three-in-one machine.

It could see maize grown on farms never before able to contemplate sowing the high-yielding crop, reducing the need to buy in expensive fodder and minimising the risk of expensive crop failures.

Created by father and son team, Wayne and Hayden Bowden of Bowden's Agricultural Contracting, Yarram, the innovative machinery plants, fertilises and rolls the maize in a single pass.

The diesel, machinery, labour, time and compaction-saving benefits are obvious.

But Wayne Bowden says the potential water savings are perhaps even more valuable for farmers.

"What we're trying to do is narrow down all of the cultivation that we need to do to plant maize in this area because moisture is a real issue," he said.

"When we start getting enough warmth to grow maize, we don't want to be ploughing up paddocks in this environment because we're losing heaps of moisture.

"If you said you're going to lose 10mm of moisture with every pass of the cultivator, by the time you do four or five passes, you've lost 50mm.

"And it could be well in excess of that.

"The other side of it is we're only digging up about 200mm in every 750mm so that conserves a lot of moisture, too."

Maize is sown in rows 750mm apart, leaving a large percentage of the paddock unsown but heavily cultivated, making it vulnerable to weeds, soil degradation and evaporation.

Rather than cultivating the entire paddock, Bowden's strip-till system opens just a 200mm-wide line of soil where each row of maize is sown.

Set between the rotary hoe, a ripper cracks the soil open to a depth of 300mm.

Half the urea is deposited at the base of the ripper and the other hace at the bottom of the rotary hoe.

A packer roller follows, trailed by the placement of diammonium phosphate (DAP) fertiliser about 40 millimetres below and beside the position of the maize seed.

After the planter has dropped the seed into place, a dosing of liquid fertiliser dribbled directly onto the seed - including copper, boron and humic acid or corn pop-up if desirable - completes the process.

Hayden and Wayne Bowden have been working on the concept for the last five or six years.

It's not entirely new technology - similar systems with tines and discs rather than a rotary hoe are used in cropping - but what makes this different is its ability to sow maize without extended fallow periods.

"We're trying to grow two crops in one season effectively so your rye-grass and your corn," Hayden said.

"Up north, they just spray it and let it fallow for six months and so they don't have any root mat problems.

We're literally taking silage off, spraying it and, bang, two weeks later, sowing maize."

One of the farmers who have adopted the new system is Patrick Hanrahan, who milks 900 cows on a 338 hectare milking platform at Stony Creek.

"The moisture conservation within the soil is a pretty important point for us," Mr Hanrahan said.

"It means that we can go from grass silage, give it a week or so and spray it out and go straight into a sprayed paddock rather than having to start working them up at the start of October to have them sown in November or December."

Stony Creek typically enjoys 1000mm average annual rainfall and the Hanrahans can top that up with dam water via a hard hose irrigator over summer.

The moisture savings still had benefits in drier years and the short fallow period was useful when wet conditions, like those experienced in the area this year, extended the silage season.

"The 45 hectares we're sowing to maize is still under our grass silage crop at the moment," Mr Hanrahan said.

"That probably isn't coming off for another week or so and then we'll probably sow on the last week of November or first week of December depending on what the weather does."

The low-till system also had soil health benefits.

"It maintains the social structure far better, rather than having to deep rip and pulverise areas where you're not going to actually put any plants," Mr Hanrahan said.

The Bowdens believe the new technology will help farmers both save water and plant maize in areas previously considered too dry for the thirsty crop.

"Where we've been able to use it on irrigation, it's helped their water conservation and we have done it in dryland conditions and got crops where we didn't think we would have got a crop, had we done it the conventional way," Wayne said.

"Maize has been traditionally grown on irrigation or high rainfall and we're trying to encourage it in these medium-rainfall areas with at least 500mm annual rainfall where there's no irrigation and/or on irrigation."

The results would be a boon to central and east Gippsland farmers, who had struggled to get 3 tonnes of dry matter per hectare yields from dryland pastures over the last few difficult seasons.

"If you can put in a crop of maize, even if you only get 15 tonnes and put in annual ryegrass afterwards, you're going to get a lot more yield out of it," Wayne said.

"To be honest, it doesn't matter where you are, water is a very valuable commodity and if we can get the job done where we're not consuming as much water or wasting as much water as we're preparing and planting it, it's got to be a win-win situation."

The story Maize maker first appeared on Stock & Land.

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