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Robust and biodiverse silage maize cultivation

14 October 2020

Snijmais plays a prominent role in the Dutch landscape, the crop is grown on more than 200,000 hectares.

The agricultural sector is working hard to make cultivation more sustainable in order to respond to the current challenges in silage maize cultivation: maintaining organic matter levels, counteracting soil compaction and nutrient leaching.

Solutions for these challenges are being tested in various national and regional research projects. We are working on (mechanical) weed control, under- and sowing, non-turning tillage, the cultivation of silage maize with the help of a strip cutter and early and ultra-early varieties.

Since last year, a new element has been added to the possible search directions for making maize cultivation more sustainable: crop diversity. Crop diversity in silage maize cultivation can take various forms, including cultivation of maize in rotation, cultivation of a winter crop after maize cultivation, strip cultivation, row cultivation or mixed cultivation. The application of crop rotation and the cultivation of a winter crop is already a frequently applied measure.

Strip, row and mixed cultivation, on the other hand, are relatively new and unknown forms of maize and diversity. You can think of mixing corn with beans, peas, sunflowers and sorghum. Various tests have already been carried out in the period 2008-2011. The public debate about the purchase of insects has recently started. In addition, interest in homegrown protein cultivation has increased significantly.

The various parties that participate in research into crop diversity regard it as a potential search direction to achieve sustainable and biodiverse silage maize cultivation. For example, the mixed cultivation of maize with a leguminous crop such as beans and peas provides food for pollinators and other flying insects and a potential contribution to the nitrogen supply for the maize crop.

Various forms of crop diversity in silage maize cultivation

In 2018, work was carried out at various locations on the various forms of crop diversity in silage maize cultivation. In Giekerk (Fr.), a demonstration plot of ultra-early maize with partner crops such as green bean, lupine, soy field bean and pea has been sown at organic dairy farmer Kooij. At the WUR Test Farm in Marwijksoord (Dr.), the pilot 'Chemistry-free maize cultivation' was built by Nordic Maize breeding. Both partner crops in the row with maize and crops between the rows were tested.

Various weed suppressing crops were tested between the rows. Elements from the pilot will be further investigated in the coming years, also in collaboration with the Louis Bolk Institute. Wageningen University & Research works in the context of two EU projects (DriverIMPACTS  and DRIVEFARMING) of crop diversity in the silage maize.

A silage maize trial has been in place in Lelystad (Fl.) since 2009, where both a rotation of maize and grass and the cultivation of winter crops are being investigated. Since 2018, an object has been constructed with a mixed cultivation of sorghum and maize, and in 2019 the mixed cultivation objects will be expanded. In addition, there was a research and demonstration plot in Hornhuizen at the Groningen farmer Ben van Tilburg in which the mixed cultivation of maize and green bean was tested on a practical scale, looking at effects on soil health, yield and feed quality.

After an exceptionally dry 2018, it is too early to be able to report concrete data of the trials and demos. The trials and demos offer sufficient potential to continue working with crop diversity in silage maize cultivation in the coming years. In particular, the weed-suppressing potential of maize-mix cultivation with beans turned out to be very favorable: "After chopping off the headland from the front, the ground disappeared black under the stick green bean plot", says Laurens van Run, looking at the demonstration plot in Giekerk.

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