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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