Tractor in a field of maize

Maize set to become the worlds largest grain crop

By Graham Ragg, Mole Valley Farmers Senior Agronomist & Product Manager

The maize crop is set to overtake wheat to become the largest grain crop in the world - with a staggering 197 million hectares grown globally by 2030.

The hectarage has increased by 46% and the yields have grown by 50% in the last 25 years, but why has it become so popular and what is the future for maize in the UK?

  • The maize plant has excellent photosynthetic efficiency and a capacity to perform well in an array of environments including the Tropics, sub-Tropics and Temperate Zones. Around the world maize is grown on 216 million farms and there is a move for it to be grown in more northern and southern latitudes and higher
  • Efficiency of water usage is higher in maize than other cereals, making it the cereal with the most favourable water footprint. Indeed, in the worst drought in the UK since 1976 the maize crop was resilient in the UK and performed well in all but the hottest, driest areas.
  • It has a lower carbon footprint than other crops, achieved by big improvements in seed breeding. Maize produces a similar dry matter yield per hectare in one cut, compared to three or four for grass silage, which saves on harvesting costs, power and labour. Maize also tends to use lower amounts of bagged fertiliser.
  • Feeding benefits to livestock in the UK where most maize is grown as Livestock farmers have seen marked benefits from maize with many dairy units feeding between 25% to 75% of their forage requirement from high starch content forage maize. Milk yield can be increased by 1,000 litres/cow/ lactation when maize is introduced to the diet, depending on the quality of the grass silage replaced. For beef cattle daily liveweight gain increases in a linear fashion as maize replaces grass silage in fattening diets.
  • Maize is relatively easy to grow but an integrated soil and crop management programme needs to be applied to achieve a successful crop. However, compared to growing winter wheat, there are fewer field operations with less fertiliser and less pesticides required.

With the increased cost of fertiliser in 2022, which is likely to continue into 2023, many farmers are choosing to make more use of F.Y.M. and slurry.

But farmers should consider the possible effects of overdosing nitrogen, phosphate and potash by using excessive amounts of manures on maize and need to evaluate soil nutrient levels, slurries, FYM and crop requirements before application.

Also, it’s important to remember the more organic manure put on maize land, the less is available to apply on grass silage fields.