For some growers in northern Victoria, corn is an opportunity crop, but for the Evans family, it is finding a regular spot in their program.
The upcoming summer will mark the fourth time in a row the Echuca farmers have grown corn for silage.
Michael Evans, his wife Jeanette and son Nick run a dryland and irrigated cropping and livestock operation, planting wheat, faba beans and canola in winter, and corn in summer.
Their agronomist, Sam Toulmin from Kober, said the Evans initially put corn in the mix to diversify their income and to make use of their full water allocations, but have decided to keep planting 40-60ha even in low allocation seasons due to the high yields, market accessibility and weed control.
“In our area we have fluctuating prices for irrigation water, so when we have access to large amounts of water at a cheap price, many growers will consider a summer crop like corn,” Mr Toulmin said.
“A couple of clients are going with summer crops year-in year-out, but most fluctuate.”
He said in the Echuca area, 85pc of crops sown are wheat, barley and canola.
Mr Toulmin said the Evans’ best yield so far was in the 2015-16 season when they harvested 28 tonnes of dry matter per hectare from a crop of PAC 624.
“We came off an extremely dry winter period, so they were able to get sowable conditions early and establish the plant numbers required for optimum yield,” Mr Toulmin said.
“We generally sow at 100,000 kernels per hectare for silage, and in that season they had an established plant population of 92,000.”
They usually budget on flood irrigation of 7ML per season, which worked out to be 4t DM/ML.
Last season was not as successful, as the wet winter inhibited seed to soil contact and paddock trafficability.
“The 2016-17 summer came off an extremely wet winter period, so they didn’t get the desired soil to seed contact. Established numbers were patchy, ranging from 65,000-90,000 per hectare.”
The crop was sown on October 30 with a John Deere MaxEmerge planter on 91cm spacing, received 143mm of in-crop rain and was harvested March 14.
Fertiliser consisted of 5t/ha of chicken litter broadcasted, 250kg of MAP plus 250kg urea deep banded prior to seeding, and 300kg of urea applied by aircraft in-crop.
Chemical applications included 3.2L/ha of Primextra Gold plus 900mL Chlorpyrifos PSPE.
Along with the potential high yields, the local dairy industry provides a steady market for silage growers, reducing the need for dry down and freight.
“Because we’re in a large dairy region, farmers can grow silage on contract.”
The advantage of growing silage over grain is the quicker harvest time.
“The issue with growing summer crops here is getting them off in time for winter sowing, but corn can be harvested for silage in March, allowing the next crop to go in on time, whereas grain needs drying down in most cases.”
“Most of our clients want to get it into the ground in the first two weeks of October, and something like PAC 624 suits that window well due to its CRM (comparative relative maturity) of 118.
“It’s a high yielding variety which enables them to get it off in March and get the next crop in without too much hassle.
“As you push later into November and early December, CRM will play more of a role, as you need a quick corn.”
Mr Toulmin said corn cropping in northern Victoria also offered a valuable weed management tool.
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Image: Kober agronomists Chris Dellavedova (left) and Sam Toulmin advise growers on several crops, including corn.