Producing the best silage maize for cows

30-09-2016 | |
Producing the best silage maize for cows
Producing the best silage maize for cows

Limagrain has been in the maize seed business for many years and has dedicated research on breeding the best corn varieties for use as silage feed. All About Feed caught up with Benoît Delord, animal nutrition expert at Limagrain Europe.

Maize seed is a science that has evolved to a great extent over the last decades, especially since the introduction of hybrids. Hybrid varieties of maize were introduced from the US to Europe in the 1950s. Since then, many improvements have been made in making the maize better, more digestible, more suitable for drier climates and more efficient.

The maize plant has separate male and female flowering parts. The tassel is the male flower and produces pollen; the ear is the female flower. Maize with its separate male and female flowering parts is a naturally cross-pollinating plant. This means that ovules can be pollinated by pollen from neighbouring plants. This way, a hybrid can be created. Hybrids often have a better yield thanks to the heterosis effect.

France: A leader in maize seed

France is Europe’s biggest producer of maize seed. According to figures from the French National Federation of Seed Maize and Seed Sorghum Production (FNPSMS), a total of 244,000 hectares of maize seed is grown in Europe. In the EU-28, France has the biggest share with 76,000 hectares, followed by Hungary (25,000 hectares) and Romania (23,000 hectares). In the non-EU list, Ukraine is the leader with 31,000 hectares of maize seed, followed by Russia (19,000 hectares) and Turkey (13,000 hectares). The maize seed is used to grow maize for industrial use or for use as animal feed (maize silage). In Europe, most silage maize is grown in Germany (34% of the total acreage) and France (24%). Other European countries have a relatively small percentage of the European silage maize (forage maize) acreage. The Netherlands has for example 4% of the total, Poland has 9%.

Photo: Henk Riswick

Dedicated maize silage research

Maize silage is a popular roughage to feed to dairy cows and a tool to help dairy farms intensify when limited land is available. According to Arvalis – Institut du Végétal (the French arable crops R&D institute), increased yields in silage maize have been the result of genetics and better farming practices. Genetic progress has been made easier by using genotyping tools, statistical and IT methods and phenotyping for example. Limagrain is the fourth largest seed company in the world founded and managed by French farmers. As a creator and producer of plant varieties, Limagrain markets field seeds, vegetable seeds and cereal products.

At Limagrain Europe, 140 different maize seed varieties are produced and a lot of attention is paid to studying new varieties, specifically for use as silage feed. “We invest a lot of time and effort to study the effect of our silage maize varieties in the animals and have carried out a set of trials to test for digestibility, feed efficiency and effect on milk production for example”, explains Benoît Delord, animal nutrition project manager at Limagrain Europe. “In 1977, our company split the grain maize breeding programme from the silage maize breeding programme and in 1997, we started the LG Animal Nutrition concept, dedicated to studying maize varieties and their applications and effects for animals. We have dedicated research on fibre digestibility for example, which taught us that variability of digestibility is linked to the content and the organisation of the cell wall structure. Digestibility of cell walls in turn depends on the possibility for ruminal cellulolytic bacteria to access digestible fibres. But we also look closely at starch digestibility, dry matter content at harvest and the fermenting/ensiling period amongst others. Starch digestibility is a complicated topic. There is a big genetic variability of Starch Rumen Degradability (SRD) so it is important to be able to characterise our varieties”, according to Delord.

To test the quality of the maize silage, Limagrain uses online NIRS in the silage chopper to measure the yield, energy content, composition (starch, protein, energy and NDF) and the digestibility. This has generated a wealth of data over the last few years. With this data, the breeding company can predict the nutrient levels of the plant more easily. “We analyse around 200,000 samples per year”, explains Delord.

Sampling of young maize plant (part of the leaves) for the molecular assisted breeding. Photo: Limagrain

Higher digestibility can save feed costs

Thanks to improvements made in the last few years, and to the use of new tools and methods, NDF digestibility can get very close to bm3 hybrids”, explains Delord. Brown midrib (BM) hybrids have a naturally occurring gene that reduces lignin in the cornstalk, hence improving the fibre digestibility. The bm3 mutation is known to have the highest digestibility over other bm mutations. “A higher digestibility can save the dairy farmer feed costs, as less feed is needed to produce the milk. This is very important as milk prices are low in Europe”, adds Delord. “Within the LGAN concept, our ambition is to continue to provide the best maize genetics for the dairy farmers and the cattle producers. Our research keeps on breeding high yielding and high quality (digestibility and energy content) varieties. We believe that in the current challenging economic situation, good quality forages will help the farmers to improve their profitability thanks to a better feed efficiency.

Also we will continue to assist farmers with different services (LG LAB portable NIRS, decision support tool to predict maize silage harvest date…) to help them to produce good quality forages and while remaining competitive. Maize silage will continue to be a really cost-effective forage for producing milk in Europe. This is our commitment through the LGAN approach”, concludes Delord.

French maize project
Amaizing is a project, aimed to support the competitiveness of the French maize breeding sector as well as meeting society demand for sustainability and quality. The project runs from 2012 to 2020 and has a total investment of 27.5 million euros from 23 partners. Amaizing will combine genetics, genomics, and ecophysiology analyses with high throughput phenotyping and genotyping to perform association studies and identify markers and candidate genes responsible for traits of agronomic interest such as yield, quality and tolerance to abiotic stress. The project will therefore bring knowledge, and breeding methods for creation of new varieties of improved maize.
Emmy Koeleman Freelance editor