THE evening light brings out the best in Scott Anderson’s corn crop.
The softer sunshine gives it a golden tinge, the abundant leaves look healthy and green, and when the breeze picks up – they create a rustling chorus across 50 hectares.
Like a home gardener pleased with a much-loved plant he has grown, Mr Anderson is proud of his towering corn plants – all 3.8 million of them. This summer marks the first time the farmer from northern Victoria has grown corn, but it will not be the last.
Victorians might associate vast corn fields with the American midwest, but the crop is now on the rise much closer to home. On irrigation properties around Boort, about an hour north of Bendigo, farmers are growing about 2000 hectares of corn this year, about double the size of last year.
More corn is also being grown on the fields on either side of the Murray and throughout the New South Wales Riverina, to meet the strong demand for the grain at home and abroad.
Although Mr Anderson had long wanted to grow corn, he is virtually growing it this season by default, after he struggled to get the seeds for another grain he wanted to grow.
So he selected corn, which was planted in October. Five months later, many of the plants are about three metres tall.
Leaning back on his dusty four-wheel-drive to assess the densely planted crop, he is pleased with what he sees. “It’s just such a great crop to grow. It’s such a satisfying crop. You can actually physically watch it grow day by day. And look at it, it looks mean, doesn’t it? There’s just something about it,” he says.
But the corn – which is maize but not of the sweetcorn variety – needs to be well watered. During the 10 long watering sessions the crop receives in the growing season, the irrigation equipment needs to be adjusted every two and a half hours. This means Mr Anderson has often visited the crop in the middle of the night.
“It’s great at night-time when you come and water, with the moon shining. I sit up here sometimes. It’s a bit of an eerie feeling. You get a lot of wildlife coming out of it, a lot of foxes and wild cats, hares and snakes,” he says.
Next season is a long way off, but Mr Anderson is hoping to plant more than three times as much corn next year.
“It’s very expensive to put in, but the rewards are there.”
He is also importing a new corn front for his header and a corn planter from America.
“I don’t think there’s anything we can grow here that will come anywhere near it (for returns). There’s a huge amount of input. This paddock might have cost $2000 to put wheat in, it cost me $20,000 for the (corn) seed. Instead of putting 100 kilos of fertiliser on, you’re putting 450 kilos on. So it’s very expensive to put in, but the rewards are there,’’ he says.
Local agronomist Doug Perryman from Rodwells says corn has been grown in the Boort district on and off for about 15 years, but it has increased its footprint since the 2011 floods and the greater availability of irrigation water.
“It’s on the rise at the moment,” he says. “It lifted up big time because of the grain price this season. So hopefully the grain price stays up and next season it might be even bigger.”
Tony Cogswell, from the grain merchant business Lachlan Commodities based in Forbes (NSW), says that there will be a wide variety of uses for the corn grown this season.
Some will be used as stock feed, while some will be exported to Japan, South Korea and Taiwan. In these nations it will be processed and converted to modified starches for the food industry. Mr Cogswell says these will be used to make confectionery, snack foods and drinks.
“Corn is one of those things that can go to a livestock market or an industrial market. It’s very versatile,’’ he says.
He says that the eastern Australian crop is estimated to be about 630,000 tonnes, up about 150,000 tonnes on last season.