MANAGEMENT AND DEVELOPMENT
SPECIALIST AND EDUCATOR
By optimising the stover, a farmer is essentially increasing the benefits and profitability of his maize production cycle. With profit margins under pressure, every maize farmer needs to decide on how best to capitalise on the stover left in the field.
Maize stover consists of the leaves, stalks and cobs of the maize plants left in a field after harvest. It is a valuable commodity and maize farmers should definitely always plan to use the stover in some way, or alternatively trade it.
Some landowners who lease lands out to other farmers may stipulate that they want access to the land post-harvest so they can benefit from the stover on the field. In this instance the farmer who has leased the field must be aware of the value of the stover and there should be some trade off in the land rent agreement.
UTILISING THE STOVER
The different ways of utilising the stover for maximum benefit are grazing it on the land or removing it off the land.
The most economical way of utilising the stover is by allowing your livestock to graze the stover off the land. It can be grazed efficiently by cattle and sheep but there will be a measure of wastage because at the same time the cattle are trampling the stover into the field. The cost benefit in this instance is there is no spend on fuel or labour to remove any stover off the land. The disadvantage of running cattle on a field is they will likely need to graze in the fields for an extended period of time. In this instance the farmer has to make a judgement call because this essentially prevents the farmer from working the lands and preparing the soil as early as possible for the next season – working the fields in winter can be very beneficial for the next crop.
Maize stover is an excellent source of feed and a wonderful way of growing your livestock through the winter months. The animals will definitely gain condition and thrive on maize stover compared to those that are overwintered on dry grasslands or veld. Some farmers even plan for this and will buy in animals specifically to eat the maize stover then sell them again after a few months because of the promise of excellent weight gain from running them on maize stover.
When a landowner does not have the option of an extended period of using the field post harvest, it is possible to bale the maize stover and remove it from the land. This involves mechanical costs as the stover has to be chopped, raked and baled. The farmer will need to make the sum – the more stover left on the field means the process is more easily justified. The benefit is that with this method, the maximum tonnage available can be removed off the fields. It can then be sold or mixed into feed rations for livestock – or even be fed as is, with animals eating the bales in a more convenient place. The harvesting of the maize stover should be done as soon as possible after the grain has been harvested. There will be a steady decrease in quality of feed stock the longer it is left to lie on the fields as sugar and protein content decreases and fibre increases.
There is however also a disadvantage to baling the stover that the farmer must keep in mind and weigh up his costs and options. By removing the stover off the fields completely, the soil is left more exposed to possible wind erosion and top soils will be blown away. For this reason, some farmers prefer to allow the maize stover to break down and decompose on the field, leaving it untouched, and so add to the mulch and organic material in the soil. This is the approach that a no-till or minimum-till farmer would most likely take, as the idea is to mulch and build up organic material in the soil. Clearly in this scenario no livestock should graze on these fields. This is unfortunately a huge challenge for maize farmers who are expected to allow any village livestock to graze on their lands during winter months.
Every farmer should take time to consider his best options and decide how to capitalise on the value that maize stover presents. We can’t afford to neglect to utilise this product optimally, that would be wasteful.