Bright Maize’s business manager Charlie Dolphin evaluates this year’s maize seed sales, and looks at the trends and what that tells us about the future. On the surface he says the run up to planting looked set to make this season exceptionally challenging, but concludes it might yet turn out to be one of the most rewarding.

Inflation, this season’s extremely wet winter and early spring, and stubbornly low temperatures well into the normal planting period may have suggested maize would be a casualty of a very unusual year. Interestingly, the reverse has been the case. In many ways, 2024 might go down as the year maize came into its own in the UK. And it has emerged clearer than ever that maize is a people business: farmers dealing with those in whom they have confidence and trust.

Against this background, Bright Maize enjoyed its best year ever – selling over 15,000ha of maize seed throughout the UK. The reasons behind it are not difficult to explain; essentially, it is about selling a proven product based on the science. Competition within the maize market is fierce, and overall, the standards among those who sell it are high; save for the occasional outlandish claim made by an overly eager salesman.


Respect the competition

The golden rule is to never knock the competition – farmers’ dislike it immensely. A potential customer asked me recently what I though of a particular competitor; I responded that they were respected in the trade and had a good reputation. Interestingly, based on that conversation my prospect became my customer – apparently my response fared better with the farmer than when the question had been put the other way around.

Of course, when things are going well, all is likely to go smoothly in the supplier/customer relationship: the real test is when something goes wrong. However rarely it might be, from time to time the best of companies – in whatever sector – will have to deal with a problem. It might be a vehicle not starting; an overcooked meal in a restaurant; or a field of wheat, barley or maize underperforming. In all cases, it is about rectifying the problem quickly. If, for example, the vehicle that will not start is a taxi which cannot be easily fixed, the priority is to supply a temporary taxi so the driver can get back to making a living. You can then look at mending the original taxi.

Similarly, if the crop that is failing needs immediate attention, ensuring the tools to do the job – whether machinery, chemicals, fertiliser, seed or whatever – are ‘on farm’ as soon as possible is the overriding priority.  In farming, as a rule of thumb, the supplier should visit the farm on the same day, or at the very least within 24 hours. The means to rectify the problem should then be available on farm 24 hours after that. In these situations, any attempt to proportion blame or point-score is foolhardy and futile; and almost always serves the interests of no one.

Thankfully, incidences such as these are few and far between, but it is wise to be prepared. Handled correctly, it can actually strengthen your standing with the customer.


Larger growers spreading supply

Whilst assessing the 2024 maize sales, it was reassuring to see that Bright Maize’s customer retention (in terms of individual customers known to be growing maize) stands at 94%. And there was a healthy intake of new customers, both forage and anaerobic digestion (AD). Of the new trade, approximately half came from growers who had expanded their area of maize to an average of over 200ha, and wanted to spread supply beyond one or two existing suppliers.

The growing of more maize nationally can explain part of the increase. Weather conditions proved prohibitive for spring cereals and maize was the beneficiary. Other suppliers will have seen a similar upturn in sales in this respect.

A factor not specific to this season, but relevant to the past few years – and will be in the future – is the confidence UK farmers now have in growing varieties falling in the maturity band 180 – 200 FAO: accounting for over 60% of the maize grown. This maturity-range achieves the ideal balance between yield and early maturity, allowing the maize crop to be taken in time for a follow-up crop to be established. It is encouraging that there was not a swing to late varieties due to the early ripening of even the late varieties in 2023, which may have lulled farmers into a false sense of security. Fortunately, that did not happen.


A kind summer is needed

Whilst around 75% of maize was drilled in the middle two weeks of May, a higher-than-normal amount was sown in June – but U maintain this was better than going before conditions were right and having to resow. Establishment is generally good in all parts of the country, but a kind summer is needed if this year is to rate as a good one for maize.

Treating maize more as a cash crop than a forage crop will help improve prospects of a good outcome. For example, we are recommending customers consider folia nitrogen application because it is readily available to the crop; uptake is more efficient through the leaf than the soil; and it can be applied when required such as at tasselling.


Guaranteeing supply

Already we are looking at next year, it appears – on the face of it – that the maize area grown will be down. The Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI) has the potential to reduce maize hectarage (that did not happen this year: farmers showed a wariness about overly committing and a land cap was introduced) and there is likely to be maize carried-over from this year. A danger with this thinking is that suppliers will prepare for lower demand and be unable to supply should demand hold, or even increase. Being able to guarantee supply come what may is paramount. It should also be remembered that agrochemical restrictions will see maize feature as part of more crop rotations as a measure to control weeds.

Price rises cannot be ruled out – arising mainly through seed production costs – but any increases are not set to be on the scale of 2023 when there was a substantial hike across the sector. Bright Maize intends to stay on the competitive end of the market, holding and increasing market share. Accordingly, we will be streamlining our portfolio to the extent that we will seek to avoid holding varieties that are essentially the same – but there will be a maize to cater for all requirements of the UK. The focus will be on new varieties such as Starlord and MAS 75B that came through this year, and particularly late varieties no longer have a role in modern maize production.




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