As with many other crops in 2012, maize and fodder beet suffered in the bad summer, especially on less suitable sites.
Yet, there was very good maize on view in recent weeks at the fodder crop open days organised by Goldcrop and SeedTech. This emphasises the importance of site and field quality, especially for maize.
There were a range of very good varieties on show in these plots at both sites. Many were the proven and established varieties but others were new.
The spread of maturity was evident between varieties and also between plastic and non-plastic covered plots. The most advanced plots under plastic were ready for harvesting.
The benefit of earliness of maturity was evident, as was the fact that many of the early varieties had visibly less bulk.
Both seed companies continue to emphasise that it is the total digestible energy in a variety that is important for the end user and not just bulk or even grain yield.
Farmers tend to have two distinct objectives for their maize corps. Some want bulk with reasonable quality while others want high starch yield to displace concentrates in the diet.
Knowing your requirement is key to variety choice and system. Later maturing varieties tend to have higher yield potential but quality can suffer greatly in unfavourable years.
Plastic is also important and over 70% of the area is now sown under plastic.
This proportion will increase further in the years ahead. Poor crops in poor growing years make maize an expensive feed.
The area sown to maize has fallen in recent years (around 13,000ha in 2012), mainly as a result of poor growing seasons combined with increasing production costs.
Still, variety progress is evident and we are seeing increased emphasis on total energy yield from many breeders, with a greater focus on cell wall digestibility to increase the utilisation of the stem and leaf material.
Plant breeding progress can be seen through the recommended list process. This list also shows that newer varieties can offer more certainty on starch yield in our uncertain climate.
This short report focuses on some of the impressive new maize varieties on view at Goldcrop (GC) and SeedTech (ST).
For under plastic
This new variety is up for recommendation and is visibly early maturing. It is tall with big full cobs indicating good quality and good starch yield. It is said to be as good as or better than Justina and possibly safer on quality. It is suited to a range of growing conditions.
This is a big looking bulker but it is late maturing and, so, more suited to favourable higher yielding sites. SeedTech say it is ahead of Justina on yield and it certainly looked impressive in their trial. It has very big cobs and, as such, looks the part along with its height and leafiness. But it is only in the early years of trialling.
This is a new early maturing variety but somewhat lower yielding and suited to a far broader range of sites or situations where high quality and/or an early harvest is important. This variety is said to have good 'stay green' characteristics for an early variety and comes through the plastic very quickly post emergence.
This is a big yielding variety but it needs a good year and good sites, as it is late maturing. Did 107 on DM yield last year in RL trials but it was short on dry matter and starch.
This is its first year in RL trials and it is seen as a very big bulker needing very good sites to achieve quality with quantity. It looks big and bulky but its cobs have a long way to go to maturity, even on this very good site.
Sowing in the open
The varieties sown without plastic cover in both locations looked well despite the bad year but they were later compared with the varieties under plastic. It seemed like many varieties would be unlikely to make the target grain quality level this year following the poor summer but crops have come a long way in recent weeks.
Sowing in the open is confined to very good sites and, to be safe, early varieties. This can mean lower total yield in a good maize year but it also means a higher likelihood of good quality silage in most other years. Big yield but later varieties are a gamble sown in the open and that is why there is increased use of plastic.
Newly recommended, this is an impressive variety with big bulk potential and big cobs. It is recommended for sowing in the open but looks very well under plastic this year too. It has high yield and very good starch content combined with excellent metabolisable energy content. It did very well in the difficult conditions of 2011 but needs good sites.
This is also a good bulky early variety with big cobs and it is suitable for almost all sites. It has good early vigour to get it going in springtime and it has yielded very well in recent years.
This one is even earlier than Kromwell but has less bulk and, so, has yielded lower in recent years. But it has very good cobs for where starch is the primary objective.
This is a new and very early maturing variety that will give high starch levels. It looked good at SeedTech, but it is visibly lower yielding with less foliage bulk than many other varieties. If you don't want to use plastic, it should still provide the quality. It will also provide an earlier harvest where the intention is to plant a following crop for over-winter, be that Westerwolds or winter wheat.
This is a very interesting variety combining earliness of maturity with a big bulky canopy and high starch yield. It is referred to as a big energy variety. While it is early, it may still need a bit more heat to hit maturity targets than it received this year.
Other new varieties at SeedTech included Severus and Yukon. Severus looked the better of the two and it has good early vigour, large cobs and is said to be very consistent.
The area sown to beet for fodder has remained relatively stable in recent years, despite some recent problems with frost and poor weather. But there has been a change in the type of crop grown with high dry matter and sugar beet types now accounting for over two-thirds of the area planted.
Fodder beet has always been an excellent feed but requires more work in the preparation for feeding, as many varieties require washing.
There has been less genetic improvement in the fodder types compared with sugar beet in recent years, so it is not surprising to see that many of the newer varieties coming to the market are of the high dry matter type, or are even sugar beet varieties. The trend to anaerobic digestions has also driven increased breeding effort for variety types that are equally suited to feeding.
Goldcrop has conducted replicated large plot demonstration trials for many years and their work shows the improvement in output potential that is occurring.
Varieties like Starmon and Rosalinda have raised the yield bar in their respective classes and further breeding progress can be expected.
Root cleanliness has become an increasing focus of plant breeding and, so, progress can also be anticipated on this characteristic in the medium term.
SeedTech is also conducting beet variety observation plots as Syngenta is a big beet breeder. They are offering Blaze as a new high yielding medium dry matter type. The roots are a distinctive bright red in colour and they have low dirt contamination.
This is regarded as a variety for the seller; that is until the user/buyer becomes more discerning on the difference between dry matter and fresh weight purchases.
SeedTech will also sell Blizzard this year. This variety has big dry matter yield despite showing lower fresh yield that competitors like Magnum, according to company representatives.
Roots are up at the 22% to 22.5% DM level. It is described as a variety that one would grow for oneself, where animal performance is the ultimate benefit rather than tonnes. It is a big root with traditional sugar beet colouring.