How to choose the right maize variety

Correct varietal choice is the first step towards achieving a successful maize harvest. Andrew Cook of seed breeder, KWS, offers some advice on narrowing down the options.

KWS maize and seed silage on livestock farming article on farming website


Unpredictable weather patterns have increased the focus on a timely harvest and early varieties may be advantageous, depending on farm location, says Mr Cook.

“Early varieties used to be associated with a yield penalty, but genetic progress means that current earlies can match, or even exceed, mainstream maize variety yields. They have the advantage of requiring only 130 days to reach maturity, compared with a standard figure of 160 days. This feature will allow the flexibility of later planting, which will give the soil more time to warm up to optimum temperature in the spring.”

Most dairy farms feed maize silage as part of a total mixed ration (TMR) and this will affect varietal choices, he says.

“The level of maize silage inclusion in a TMR has risen from roughly 50%, to 65%-plus in recent years. Modern maize hybrids with an FAO of 170 and below can be safely fed to cattle at high rates.

“For maize silage to fulfil its reputation as ‘rocket fuel’ for dairy cow productivity, it may be advisable to opt for average starch figures of 30%-plus. These can also be a useful addition for beef cattle diets, especially in the final one third of the finishing period.”

Energy crops:

High yields are the main priority for energy crop growers, with large holdings also looking to spread drilling and harvest dates, he comments.

“An FAO, or maturity rating, of above 200 will generally be required for maximum yield potential and this will reduce growing costs per dry matter tonne, which is another important factor.

“Nevertheless, the early-maturing qualities of varieties with an FAO of below 200 can help to spread the workload. As a general recommendation, a 20% inclusion of early varieties will suit growers managing extensive acreages.”

KWS maize on livestock farming article

The KWS Maize Variety Portfolio 2024 is packed with information to help with varietal choice, with each variety accompanied by icons to indicate end use, he adds. The company website also contains a handy online tool for calculating seed rates. It is available free of charge, with growers entering their target plant density, crop area and planned row spacing to calculate seed volume requirements.

Mr Cook explains: “The seed rate tool allows the user to enter a range of differing parameters to manipulate the results. This is invaluable for working out the effect of changing row spacings, for example, as well as for calculating seed requirements. Under normal conditions, a 95% field emergence should be assumed.”

Find the 2024 KWS variety portfolio and the maize seed rate calculator here

Read more livestock articles here

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