Maize production is shifting south for a variety of reasons as farmers embrace this opportunity crop.
Corn for human consumption or for livestock rations works well as a disease-break in rotation with summer cotton and with this year's full water allocation, growers have confidence in a profitable outcome.
In the north, particularly along the coast and north of the Queensland border, recently arrived Fall armyworm is having an impact on yield and is part of the reason why as much as 5000 hectares of production has been lost to maize and replaced with sorghum - more resistant to the boring grub and which at the moment is as profitable.
An equal amount of area has been absorbed in the south including over the Victorian border in the Murray River Irrigation Area.
Agronomists continue to monitor for adult fall armyworm moths and report that the issue doesn't present until late in the season south of Coleambally as insects can't over-winter, as they do in the north.
"We haven't seen fall armyworm cause economic damage," reports CEO of Maize Australia Liz Mann.
Increasing interest from temperate croppers in growing this tropical grass is growing but Ms Mann warned that a crop requires a market and without a contract a producer needs drying facilities and storage, to avoid selling off the header.
"Growers are getting good results in northern Victoria," she said. "But maize has a high nutrient demand and fertiliser must match the crop more often and be applied on a regular basis. Then, the end result is profitable."
Hotter seasons allow cotton to maximise yield while corn can better tolerate the cooler conditions, says agronomist Heath McWhirter, Summit Ag at Griffiths.
For that reason this start to summer has been especially kind to maize crops in the southern valleys, where 20pc of cotton has required a replant. There there has been none among the corn.
"As a feedstock there is market opportunity but farmers need a yield of 14t/ha to compete with cotton," he said, noting the figure of 14-18t/ha is "very achievable" in a normal season.
"To get the best out of cotton the plant demands the correct placement of seed. We see the best cotton establishment on the hills prepared six months earlier.
"Those who have grown cotton and learned its techniques find coming back to corn a lot simpler. And corn is a good option in rotation for reducing weed and disease burdens. It's a way of hedging bets. In this cooler year there is better pollination with corn."
There have been good results with maize at Narrandera since the 1960s with the Heckendorf family pioneering corn in the south as part of their wheat and canola rotation. They continue to set new records for production.
There are high hopes for this year's crop of 180ha already at 3-4 leaf stage.
While the five year average price of $420/t sounds promising, growers need to be aware that $4500 to $5000/ha - about 10t/ha worth of yield - will be required just to produce the crop.
"You want to do it right," advises irrigator Nathan Heckendorf, who bands 75-80pc of fertiliser prior to sowing and uses tissue culture and leaf analysis to plan when to utilise the final 20pc of nutrient application.
The family's best yield, set in 2021, is 20.3t/ha of grain under 14pc moisture using overhead irrigation. That figure is only bettered by Ian Hammond, Tatura, Vic, who grew 21.7t/ha using drip tape irrigation.
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