- Arable, beef and sheep producer
- Farms 1,400 acres at Ivyhouse Farm, close to Doncaster
- Grows and sells crimped grain maize to dairy and beef producers
Russell Toothill is a former NFU County Chairman for Yorkshire West Riding. He was also NFU Environmentalist of the Year in 2006.
He says: “We started growing maize in 2011 because of its resilience to drought. We grow the crop on restored gravel pit land which lacks water retention, and the crop normally withstands dry conditions better than anything else on our sandy soils.
Even in this disastrous year, it’s been the best crop for this land without doubt. We have irrigated some land and do have enough cobs to harvest. This is helped by the low seed rate we use, which we’ve found is optimised for grain maize at 21,000 seeds/acre. This represents quite a big financial saving over rates recommended for forage maize and we find we get two cobs per plant and they have much more room to grow. The lower seed rate is particularly beneficial in a year like the one we’ve had.
Organic matter returned to the soil
We’ve grown around 600 acres of grain maize this year and will harvest from early November when its moisture content reaches 30%. We have a 4WD combine on tracks with an eight-row stripper header which can harvest around 80-90 acres per day. The combine takes in the cobs but leaves the stem and leaves on the ground. These have to be ploughed back in which puts a lot of organic matter back into the soil and means we need less fertiliser on grain maize land than land used for wholecrop forage maize.
We have crimped a proportion of the maize since the outset and now use CrimpSafe 300 to preserve the crop. The combine is so big that it keeps up with the drying and the crimping and we have a ready outlet for both dried and crimped maize.
Dried maize commands a price premium of about £70 per tonne but the drying costs are significant and rising – currently at around £60 per tonne. We use farm contractor, Tim Russon [P Russon & Sons, Farmers Weekly Contractor of the Year 2020] for the crimping and we reckon the total cost of this, including the milling, the additive and sheeting, works out at just over £20 per tonne.
We tried biological additives in the past but the maize started to get hot quickly once out of the clamp. This made it difficult to use and sell, and indicates it is losing feed value.
Most reliable preservation
CrimpSafe 300 isn’t the cheapest but it’s the most reliable and least wasteful additive we’ve found and we’ve returned to it after trying others. Treated maize comes out of the clamp and does not get hot. It is much more user friendly when being sold to dairy farmers who find it lasts in a heap for a couple of weeks on their farms. Alternatively, it can be re-compacted and clamped for longer term storage.
Although we use some crimp for our own cattle, we sell around 2,000 tonnes to dairy and beef producers in a normal year. We prefer farm-to-farm trade as it’s financially beneficial to both buyer and seller whereas selling to the trade adds a cost of about £12 per tonne to the buyer.
We have around half a dozen regular dairy farmer customers who understand the nutritional advantages of crimped maize. Its available energy is much better than dry wheat or barley and it’s good for driving production in a dairy herd. Its price tends to mirror that of barley although dairy producers appreciate that crimped maize is a much better feed.
For us, grain maize has a fluid margin per hectare depending on conditions. In a good year, it’s probably one of the better paying crops but in a drought year it looks less attractive. Last year was one of our better years but in 2022 it was too hot for pollination and the crop hasn’t done as well.
However, as the climate changes and we get more dry spells I think maize will be more sustainable than wheat or barley. It has better environmental credentials although we need to choose varieties carefully, as there’s a huge varietal difference in drought tolerance. We’re also now able to grow maize without the use of bagged fertiliser, using only digestate from a nearby AD plant.”
- Farm manager, with over 2,000 acres at White House Farm, Lincolnshire
- Arable and dairy with 290 cows yielding 9,800kg at 4.6% fat and 3.4% protein (2x)
- Grows some grain maize for crimping but buys extra for the dairy herd
Zara Dorrington the farm manager for J H Dorrington & Son Ltd in Lincolnshire having formerly been the assistant farm manager at The Royal Farms, Windsor and studied agriculture at the University of Reading.
She says: “We currently grow 180 acres of maize ourselves of which 80 is harvested as grain for crimping. Having trialled a small acreage to start with we were really pleased with the results we got from feeding it to our dairy herd and were looking for ways to increase this to include it all year round. The arable land is also used for vining peas, sugar beet, potatoes, and grass leys as break crops and we didn’t want to grow the combineable maize on our heavier soils because of the late harvest date. So, we started looking for other sources of the product.
Replacement for caustic soda wheat
We started the initial trial following a discussion with our contractor, Tim Russon, after explaining we were looking for ways to move away from feeding caustic soda wheat without compromising the quality of the cows’ diet. Handling the caustic on farm was a hazard and not a pleasant job for the team, and the price of wheat was rising. So, when looking for a further supply of the product, Tim was able to put us in touch with Russell Toothill who had some to sell.
We bought our first load of 58 tonnes from him last winter. It’s dug out of Russell’s clamp, loaded into bulkers and tipped here where we re-clamped it, taking time for good compaction and sealed edges. We found it stores really well and stays cold, even after re-clamping, and so we took a further 116 tonnes this spring.
Cow fertility and energy balance
The crimp is a lovely, palatable product that the cows really want to eat, and the team have been pleased with the results. You can achieve high intakes with it, which is helping to drive yield and milk quality. We’ve noticed the cows’ fertility has also improved and being able to feed it consistently year-round, is preventing the dip in energy in the diet at a crucial stage and we are seeing much more bulling activity leading into the upcoming service period so we are very excited. Body condition scores are also very consistent this year.
Crimped maize can have a starch level in excess of 70% and a metabolisable energy of over 14MJ/kg DM. It’s also safe to push up intakes with it, because of the slow release and by-pass nature of the starch. Compared with something like dry rolled wheat, it breaks down much more slowly in the rumen and creates less acid loading.
Reducing carbon footprint
I returned home to the farm just over four years ago and the crimped maize is one of several changes made since that time, including the construction of a new cubicle house. Many of the changes on the dairy are focussed on our desire to feed as much home-grown or UK-grown feeds as we can, reducing our carbon footprint and improving efficiency.
We plan to carry on feeding crimp but as forage maize is more suited to the majority of our own ground, buying in the crimped grain from Russell’s much lighter land works very well for us as it is able to be re-clamped so easily.”