Growers in sheltered parts of the country may seek to establish crops of forage maize at the beginning of April, according to Teagasc tillage specialist Tim O’Donovan.

It’s very much a judgement call, he said, but farmers in sheltered areas, who believe the risk of having crops attacked by a May frost is low, will probably push ahead, provided ground conditions are suitable.

“The vast majority of maize crops grown in Ireland are now sown under plastic. But some early crops will have broken through this cover and find themselves fully exposed to the elements by the beginning of May. And, we know from experience that frosts at that time of the year can hit young maize plants badly.”

O’Donavan expects Ireland’s forage maize area to extend to around 14,000ha in 2015.

“That has been the average figure for the past couple of years. But the scope to increase the maize acreage next year is significant. The bottom line is that milk producers will have to find some way of feeding the extra dairy cows now in the country.”

O’Donavan was speaking in the wake of the two recent forage maize seminars, jointly hosted by Teagasc and UCD’s school of agriculture. Issues up for discussion included the latest variety trial results from the Department of Agriculture and the agronomy associated with growing of successful maize crops.

“Department speakers confirmed that all future trial work will be focussed on varieties grown under plastic,” he said.

“From an agronomy point of view, issues discussed included the herbicide options for maize and the absolute requirement to produce a high quality seed bed. Deep ploughing, possibly combined with ripping, is essential to ensure that all soil pans are shattered. Maize plants must have the opportunity to develop a deep rooting system. Two runs of the harrow will be required to produce the fineness of seed bed that maize crops require.

“We were delighted with the turnout at both seminars. Those in attendance were all committed maize growers.”

O’Donovan also pointed out that livestock farmers who traditionally grow 30ha plus of forage maize or wholecrop cereals will be subject to the greening obligations, irrespective of their accompanying grassland area.

“The number of farmers falling into this category is relatively small, possibly up to 40,” he said.

“But for those affected, this will be an important issue. Members of Teagasc staff are available to provide all the relevant advice that is required.”

Teagasc will publish the proceedings of the forage maize seminars on the organisation’s web site over the coming days.