Forage Maize Varieties – How Reliable Are They?

NORTHERN IRELAND, UK - If maize silage is to be a major contributor to winter feeding in Northern Ireland, it can’t be more unpredictable than other forages. So every maize grower wants to know the risks of growing the crop, write Dr Trevor Gilliland & Dr Eamonn Meehan from Agri-Food Biosciences Institute (AFBI), Plant Testing Station.
calendar icon 14 March 2011
clock icon 4 minute read

Following a couple of tricky growing years the local maize acreage has fallen back slightly, to 2006 levels. It seems that some farmers have decided that winter forage is more reliably made by other means. So how reliable is locally grown maize?

Clearly weather is a major factor as maize is sensitive to the cold temperatures that periodically blight our summers. Weather stress can be measured by Ontario Heat Units (OHU), which are an accumulation of the day/night temperatures from sowing to harvest. Early maturing varieties require around 2300-2400 OHU to fully mature in the open, but if grown under a plastic mulch will require no more than 2100 OHU.

The average for the past 10 years on the typical sites used by Crossnacreevy has been 2400 OHU, with an annual maximum of over 2600 and a minimum of 2100. So conditions can be challenging, but to simply blame the weather and declare forage maize unreliable would be far from the whole truth. Since the variation between farms in any year can be as great as the variation between years, there are clearly factors that farmers can control to improve reliability.

Beyond correct basic management such as avoiding easily waterlogged or compacted soils and good seed-bed preparation, consistency depends mainly on three controllable factors; sowing method, timing of sowing and choice of variety.

  • Sowing Method: By using plastic mulch we have consistently produced maize at over 30 per cent DM and 30 per cent starch content during the past 10 years with an mean yield of over 16 t per ha DM, peaking at around 20 t per ha DM. The open system has averaged around 13.5 t per ha over the same period and has not always fully matured on the average-type sites used for testing varieties. While maize can be successfully grown in the open on favourable sites, it will always vary more with the vagrancies of the weather. Plastic maize, although a more expensive system will be a more reliable way of producing high-yields of high-starch silages.

  • Timing of Sowing: This is as important for consistency as sowing method. Pioneering experiments at AFBI-Hillsborough showed that sowing in early April could advance silking dates upwards of two weeks, and significantly raise yields by around 2 t per ha DM and starch content by upwards of five per cent. Combined with plastic mulch, an early April sowing can also allow the use of later maturing varieties that need more heat energy but have a greater yield potential.

  • Adapted Varieties: Maize breeding has been focusing on faster developing varieties that require less heat energy to mature. Unfortunately, these are targeted at the larger seed markets of Northern Europe and southern regions of Britain and Ireland. The more marginal Northern Ireland region is not sufficiently large to justify a specific breeding programme. Therefore, only those varieties that have been proven locally can be regarded as reliable. AFBI-Crossnacreevy tests a wide range of varieties each year and excludes those that are not consistent performers. So the DARD Recommended List is the best guide to consistent performing varieties for local conditions.

No crop can be described as totally consistent from year to year, but the key is to have sufficient production to meet herd requirements over the winter. Some farmers with favourable sites have achieved a satisfactory level of reliability from open grown crops. For many, however, the best recommended varieties sown in early April under plastic mulch will deliver a level of consistency that makes home-grown forage maize a dependable high energy winter feed. Top maize growers are achieving this year-on-year by paying attention to detail. The same rewards are available to those who replicate their example. Copies of the new 2011 DARD recommended list of forage maize varieties are available from all DARD offices or online at [P = provisional, S = specific use] .

DARD Recommended Forage Maize Varieties 2011

- Open Establishment - Open Establishment
- KAUKAS - Karimbo
- KROESUS S Artist
- SURPRISE - Crescendo
- LEEDS - Sapphire
- RULER P Kougar

- Plastic Mulch - Plastic Mulch
- KAUKAS - Paddy
- AWARD - Ronaldinio
- ANVIL - Gladi CS
- MAS 12A - Klifton
- SURPRISE - Nescio
- LG3193 S Benicia
- KROESUS - Goldclamp
P Mas 08.G P Mas 10C
P NK Jasmic P Sunboy

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