Plan now for summer crops

Andrew Tyler, Tongala dairy farmer and outgoing Murray Dairy chair, standing in front of his summer maize crop, which is flood irrigated. Photo by Michael Woods

Murray Dairy says it’s time to think about your summer cropping schedule.


Maize is a high-quality feed that is highly digestible and high in starch, helping to drive milk production — especially in fresh cows.

Typically, maize silage tests with metabolisable energy (ME) of 11.5, a crude protein (CP) of 8 and a neutral detergent fibre (NDF) of 45 per cent.

It is a rewarding crop to grow, but there is a large initial outlay before you see a return as you are not able to utilise it until May (once it has been ensiled).

Sowing time is critical, and it tends to be sown late October to December.

Soil temperatures should be at a minimum of 12°C and rising (optimum is 14°C) to get germination. Sowing depth should be between 3cm to 8cm, never shallower than 3cm, into moisture.

The conservation process for maize needs to be managed carefully to make sure you get the highest return on your investment. Planning both your infrastructure and management from the start will assist this.

If you are thinking about growing maize for the first time, consider the following factors:

  • You have a well-prepared paddock.
  • You are prepared to invest heavily.
  • Timeliness is paramount for sowing, watering, fertilising and harvesting.
  • You seek advice from agronomists, nutritionists and experienced growers.
  • You are prepared to work with contractors.
  • You plan to utilise the feed with minimal wastage.

Forage sorghum and millet

Sorghum and millet are usually direct-grazed options that are available through the summer months, however, they can also be conserved.

Although sorghum and millet can be more forgiving than maize, crop performance relies on good preparation, nutrient management, pest and weed control, and water availability.

Both must be sown at a soil temperature of 16°C and rising.

Sorghum can be harder than millet to manage due to spasmodic growth when temperatures fluctuate.

Grazing at about 1m in height, you should expect to achieve a 9 ME and 12 CP from the crop, which cows will milk on.

Due to its high fibre content, limit intake to 8kg DM/cow/day to not compromise production due to reduced intake.

Always be mindful of the risk of prussic acid and nitrate toxicity by managing grazing heights and crop stress.

Millet is quick growing and cheaper compared to sorghum, but sorghum is slightly better milker quality.

Millet can be grazed around 5-6 weeks post-sowing and can be on a 12-day grazing rotation. It also needs to be sown with fertiliser due to the rapid growth of the plant.

It is always important to consult a nutritionist and agronomist to ensure you are making the best decisions and driving the best possible outcome for your farm.

Local agronomist James Challis reports there is a solid supply of sorghum and millet seed available; however, due to some production crop damage, there is a shortage on short varieties of maize seed.

Contact your local supplier to secure and plan your supply for the season.