The ori­gins of maize sow­ing in Europe 

As one of the most sig­nif­i­cant crops in agri­cul­ture, maize is one of our key sources of starch and has been feed­ing both peo­ple and ani­mals for mil­len­nia. Maize orig­i­nates from South Amer­i­ca, where it has been grown for over 6000 years. Today’s com­mer­cial crop was devel­oped from a wild grass brought over to Europe by sea. Due to repeat­ed crop fail­ures in pota­to farm­ing, maize took on a cen­tral role in feed­ing the pop­u­la­tion dur­ing the 19th cen­tu­ry. Over time, more robust vari­eties of the plants, which were used to being bathed in sun­shine, were bred to be bet­ter adapt­ed to the con­ti­nen­tal cli­mate. Today’s hybrid vari­eties are high­ly pro­duc­tive and can grow up to two and a half metres tall, depend­ing on the weath­er con­di­tions. As a C4 plant, maize fix­es a high amount of nitro­gen from the air and ener­gy from sun­light. This enables maize plants to cre­ate a large amount of bio­mass in a rel­a­tive­ly short space of time, even in drought con­di­tions and when exposed to lots of sun­light. Maize is used as fod­der for ani­mals and as food for humans in the form of flour and sweet­corn. Over the past few years, the crop has gained in sig­nif­i­cance as a source of bioen­er­gy too and spe­cif­ic vari­eties have been devel­oped for this. There are now over 5000 cul­ti­vat­ed vari­eties world­wide, around 500 of which are autho­rised to be sown in Ger­many. In Europe, maize is most­ly grown in Roma­nia, France, Hun­gary and Poland. In the next sec­tion, we will take a look at the key points to be aware of when sow­ing maize.

Strate­gies for maize sowing

Maize is sown in Cen­tral Europe towards the end of April, once the soil tem­per­a­ture reach­es around eight to ten degrees Cel­sius. This tem­per­a­ture range is ide­al for maize seed ger­mi­na­tion. Sow­ing maize too ear­ly can have a neg­a­tive effect on crop emer­gence. On the oth­er hand, wait­ing too long for the right moment and sow­ing maize late short­ens the grow­ing sea­son and min­imis­es yields. For this rea­son, the right time to sow maize is always a com­pro­mise between a longer growth peri­od and the ide­al soil tem­per­a­ture. The maize vari­ety select­ed for sow­ing should also be tai­lored to the spe­cif­ic local con­di­tions and type of use. The demands on the soil are rel­a­tive­ly min­i­mal because maize plants are very effi­cient at util­is­ing the avail­able resources. When sow­ing maize, it should always be ensured that the seedbed has a fine, homo­ge­neous tilth so that the seeds have suf­fi­cient soil con­tact. In addi­tion to the soil con­di­tions, the weath­er con­di­tions are also cru­cial. The long-term aver­age of the accu­mu­lat­ed tem­per­a­ture and amount of rain­fall are used as ref­er­ence points for this. In order to pre­vent the soil from dry­ing out, direct sow­ing can be used. Addi­tion­al fac­tors to con­sid­er when sow­ing maize and choos­ing a vari­ety are the yield para­me­ters. Grain maize is bred to pro­duce above-aver­age results and is very suc­cess­ful in this regard. Maize for silage, on the oth­er hand, pro­duces good dry mat­ter yields and cor­re­spond­ing lev­els of starch and ener­gy per hectare. The suit­abil­i­ty for ensil­ing is also some­thing to con­sid­er when sow­ing maize, as high dry mat­ter con­tents in both the grain and the plant are need­ed for ensil­ing. A crop that has dried out pre­ma­ture­ly and exces­sive­ly dry, hard grains are dif­fi­cult for ani­mals to digest, so this reduces the feed val­ue of the silage. For dis­tinct grow­ing sea­sons that require plants to stay green­er for longer, a ‘stay green’ vari­ety can be select­ed for maize sow­ing. These vari­eties offer a wider har­vest­ing win­dow and are ide­al for grow­ing maize for silage in dry loca­tions. For grain maize, on the oth­er hand, ‘dry down’ vari­ants are used. They ripen faster and have a nar­row­er time frame for har­vest­ing. Dent maize offers an opti­mum com­bi­na­tion of grain ripen­ing, a good suit­abil­i­ty for ensil­ing and ration digestibil­i­ty. In order to ver­i­fy the suc­cess of maize sow­ing, good cul­ti­va­tion man­age­ment and pre­cise crop mon­i­tor­ing are required. For opti­mum vis­i­bil­i­ty, the entire har­vest­ing crew’s activ­i­ties can be doc­u­ment­ed and each trail­er load can be retraced. 365FarmNet’s soft­ware solu­tions and 365Active Sys­tem hard­ware com­po­nents enable maize har­vests to be record­ed with the help of a har­vest trans­port pro­to­col. Records are allo­cat­ed to each field and sup­ple­ment­ed by the teleme­try data from the har­vest­ing equip­ment. This enables farm man­agers to assess their cul­ti­va­tion strat­e­gy and mea­sure the suc­cess of their maize crop.


Maize prod­ucts for the feed, food and pack­ag­ing industries 

The appli­ca­tions for maize are as diverse as the vari­eties autho­rised. First­ly, the entire plant can be used as ani­mal feed. The maize is chopped and the grains bro­ken down so that the ani­mals can eas­i­ly con­sume the starch con­tained with­in them. So that this type of maize can be stored, it is pre­served by ensil­ing via a fer­men­ta­tion process in large silos. The silage can then be used to form the basis of a fibre-rich fod­der for dairy and beef farm­ing. When grain maize is pro­duced, the ripe ears are threshed and fur­ther processed. The grains can be used to pro­duce flour for the food indus­try and for feed con­cen­trates. To pro­duce fod­der, the grains, com­plete with the corn­cob, are made into CCM (corn cob mix). Anoth­er prod­uct used in food pro­duc­tion is sweet­corn, which is used as the entire cob and tastes very sweet. In some coun­tries, maize is the main source of ener­gy and pro­tein used to feed the pop­u­la­tion. Maize is also increas­ing­ly being used as an ener­gy crop. Silage is con­vert­ed into methane in bio­gas plants and is then processed into elec­tric­i­ty via a series of inter­me­di­ate steps in com­bined heat and pow­er plants or fed direct­ly into the gas net­work. Addi­tion­al appli­ca­tions can be found in the pack­ag­ing indus­try, where biopoly­mers from maize starch are used as sub­sti­tutes for plas­tic prod­ucts such as cups, bags and films.
In sum­ma­ry, maize is an incred­i­bly ver­sa­tile crop. Its prod­ucts can be put to many more uses beyond just feed and food. Breed­ing suc­cess­es have giv­en rise to vari­eties of maize that are spe­cial­ly adapt­ed for var­i­ous appli­ca­tions and to grow under dif­fer­ent con­di­tions, enabling the crop to be grown effi­cient­ly the world over.

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