The extent to which U-series disequilibria can be produced during partial melting of mafic lower crust is quantified using a simple batch melting model and both experimental and theoretical partition coefficients for U, Th and Ra. We show that partial melting of mafic lower crust can only produce small disequilibria between 238U, 230Th and 226Ra. Crystallisation of basalt and mixing between young basalt and crustal derived melts will have a similar or smaller effect. Consequently, U-series disequilibrium in arc andesites and dacites can generally only be an inherited feature derived from a mantle parent, unless the timescales of silicic magma production within the crust are short compared to the half-life of 226Ra. Our results have profound implications for several recent models of silicic magma production by thermal incubation and partial melting of the lower crust. We show that the 226Ra excess observed in most arc andesites and dacites requires extremely rapid differentiation and/or the involvement of mantle derived basalts less than a few thousand years old. Application to Mount St. Helens suggests that crystallisation of young mantle-derived magma is likely to be the dominant process in the formation of these dacites.