12th September 2022

Variety choice will deliver more milk from maize

Selecting the optimum combination of maize varieties will be crucial this year to maximise the contribution from forage maize and help reduce purchased feed costs, according to Limagrain UK’s Maize Manager, Tim Richmond.

Tim Richmond_maize 40 NEWS“Variety choice has a marked impact on crop performance.  There is a considerable range of varieties available with new ones being launched every year,” he comments.  “This can make the choice daunting. 

“Research shows the majority of growers will plant around 80% of their maize area as varieties they have grown before with just 20% being new varieties, meaning they aren’t making full use of the new varieties that have been developed, many of which have superior energy contents and yields.  There is a great opportunity to exploit the potential of new varieties to produce more, better quality forage for a very small, if any, increase in growing costs.”

When selecting a maize variety he says farmers have to weigh up a number of attributes including early vigour, maturity, disease resistance, yield and feed characteristics such as dry matter, starch content, cell wall digestibility and ME levels.  The ideal varieties will be suited to the farm type and produce the maximum yield of usable nutrients, a combination of physical quantity and quality.

Mr Richmond says the best way for farmers to make the most informed decisions about potential varieties and to take advantage of the latest plant breeding advances is to make full use of the BSPB/NIAB Descriptive List of Forage Maize Varieties.

“The Descriptive List allows farmers to use independent trial data to compare the leading varieties available.  There are currently over 50 varieties on the list and farmers can have confidence in the independence and rigour of the data.

BSPB is the representative organisation for all plant breeders in the UK and the independent Descriptive List is produced annually.  It aims to compare varieties across the key growing locations in the UK, and specifically assesses crop maturity in terms of dry matter, crop yield, agronomic data and quality criteria.

Maize Selection Guide 2016 webtest6-thumbnailThe data set incorporates five years of trials and is divided into Favourable and Less Favourable sections reflecting the different growing areas.  Each variety is tested for three years before it can be added to the Descriptive List.  They are sown at six different locations in Year 1 and 2 and nine locations in Year 3. The trial work is carried out by NIAB and plant breeders under contract to BSPB.

“Every year, plant breeders who want independent assessment will submit promising new varieties for the process,” Mr Richmond continues.  “Over the three years of testing, varieties can be withdrawn at any time and a proportion will fail to make it onto the list.

“There is a regular turnover of varieties on the List.  The best varieties are classified as First Choice with the most successful of these staying on the list for up to 12 years. The other poorer performing varieties are classified as Second Choice and may only last 2-3 years. The key thing is that if a variety is on the List it has been independently tested and the available data can be compared against their peers on the List.  Varieties offered for sale which are not on the List do not have independent scrutiny to back up breeder claims.”

Mr Richmond says the first criteria when selecting varieties must be related to agronomy and maturity group.  He advises that whichever varieties are considered, it is vital to select the correct maturity group if maize is to mature and be ready for harvest on the target date.  This was brought clearly into focus last year with many farmers experiencing crops that ripened late, leading to a delayed harvest which in turn had consequences for winter feeding.

“It is important to remember that the crop grown is an intermediary product to the final feedstuff, it is what is available in the clamp that matters.  The focus has to be on both the quality and quantity of nutrients that will be available to feed in the winter.  This means looking at ME (energy) characteristics, which is a consequence of both dry matter yield and feed quality descriptors.

“Once varieties have been identified with suitable agronomic features and maturity date, the aim must be to select those that will deliver the best quality feed in the specific circumstances and with the greatest milk production potential.”

Mr Richmond says the total energy content of a variety on the BSPB/NIAB List, expressed in ME, ranges from 11.0 -11.7MJ/kgDM.  He explains this means the highest energy yielding varieties on the List will produce around 27,000MJ/ha more than the lowest variety.  With each litre of milk requiring 5.3MJ, that is a difference of 5,280 litres per hectare.

“To supply the potential extra energy via purchased feed would require around 2.5 tonnes of dairy compound to be fed per hectare of maize grown.  For a farmer growing 20 hectares of maize, this is a feed saving of around £12,500.”

LGAN LogoTo help growers select varieties with the highest milk potential, Limagrain introduced the LGAN (Limagrain Animal Nutrition) accreditation scheme.
To achieve LGAN status, the variety’s performance must be outstanding compared with average varieties that have been on the BSPB/NIAB List at least four years.  Potential varieties are assessed on agronomic features as well as Cell Wall Digestibility (CWD), starch content, DM yield and total energy yield.

“With dairy farmers monitoring all costs closely, maize variety selection to take advantage in developments in plant breeding to choose varieties that will deliver more milk per hectare for little, if any, additional cost could be a significant help this spring.  And the BSPB/NIAB List is an excellent starting point,” Mr Richmond emphasises.

To help simplify the choice of maize variety, Limagrain have produced the 2016 Maize Variety Selection Guide.  Including data on all the varieties on the BSPB/NIAB Lists it contains easy to follow diagrams and tables to help farmers identify the best variety for their particular circumstances.  For your free copy, call 01472 370117 or download here. To visit our maize page, click here


Selection on Wrong Criteria Has Big Cost Attached

Dave Harris of BCW Agriculture in Cheshire and Shropshire has first-hand experience of the implications of sub-optimal maize variety selection.

“One of my farmer customers in Cheshire regularly grows around 33ha of maize for his dairy herd.  He usually grows varieties selected from the BSPB List, in recent years using the LG varieties Yukon and Glory which combines high yields, excellent starch content and ME levels with early maturity.

“In 2015 he was persuaded to try another variety, which is not on the Descriptive List.  It has been successful in standing maize competitions but how the crop looks in the field has little bearing on how it will perform in the diet.  The seed was also £15 per pack cheaper.

“In the end, 25ha of Glory was grown alongside 8ha of the other variety.  One 8ha field was split 50:50 between the varieties so was grown with identical agronomy.”glory-maize-product

Mr Harris says that there was little to choose between the crops during the growing season, they both yielded 16t DM/ha but when the silages were analysed there was a significant variance.  The Glory analysed significantly better with higher ME, better D value and a greater starch content (see table).

“When we worked the numbers out, based on 5.3MJ/litre and a milk price of 20p, the Glory had the potential to produce £543 more milk per hectare than the other variety.  This excludes any added benefits from the superior digestibility and higher starch content.

“The 20 packs of seed used had saved £600 but resulted in £4000 lost production.  Had the farmer swapped 100%, the lost production potential would have been £16,000.

“The lesson to me is clear. Only select varieties based on independent data and focus on the end game of quality silage.  Any additional investment in seed will be small compared to the milk production potential.”




Dry matter (%) 27.8 29.9
D Value (%) 72.3 66.4
ME (MJ/kgDM) 11.5 10.6
Starch % 29.5 28.7
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