Nickerson pulls maizes out of NIAB trial work

3 May 2002

Nickerson pulls maizes out of NIAB trial work

By Marianne Curtis

ONE of the worlds three largest maize breeders, Nickerson is to withdraw its range of maize varieties from NIAB trials.

This makes it the second large player to do so following in the footsteps of plant breeder Pioneer.

Unlike the HGCA recommended list for cereals, funded by a levy paid on grain when sold, the descriptive list for maize is funded by a fee paid by plant breeders, says Nickerson maize marketing manager Peter Schofield.

"For cereals there are fixed protocols and a variety is accepted or rejected depending on whether it meets these standards. Therefore, only about a dozen appear on the list. But for maize, if a breeder pays the £1000 fee to trial a variety, there is a good chance it will appear on the list, which contains about 70 varieties."

This lack of independence is leading to bias in the way data is presented, says Mr Schofield. "Although I have no problem with the way NIAB trials are conducted, we have a difficulty with the way data is presented. The British Society of Plant Breeders works out how data is interpreted and there is too much bias towards maize maturity and starch production."

Of more value to producers would be information on whole plant digestibility, he says. "In mainstream maize growing areas, most varieties reach the 28-30% DM harvest window by late September or early October. Therefore, producers should select varieties on yield and nutritional factors, not just picking the earliest on the list."

But John Hardy, managing director of maize supplier Grainseed, defends the maize listing system. "While it is not perfect, it is set up to be as impartial as possible and presents data which growers requested via the Maize Growers Association. Every breeder will want to highlight different characteristics, but the list is a compromise to satisfy all needs. If it did not exist there would be no independent information."

Future trials commissioned by Nickerson on its varieties will focus on discovering optimum harvest stage to maximise nutritional value, says Mr Schofield. "This may be when the cob is softer. We are the only country using cob crackers, others avoid hard, ripe cobs in forage maize."

Cracking maize grains is supposed to improve digestibility, but even these can be poorly digested, says independent nutritionist Hefin Richards.

"Seven or eight years ago, we used to see problems with whole maize grains in dung. Now I see part grains in dung. In dairy cows, feed is passing through the animal quickly. Although very mature cobs may have a high starch content, a large proportion of potential energy from starch is lost due to poor digestion."

Focusing on cob ripeness might also reduce digestibility, if the rest of the plant is low in energy, he adds. &#42

Selecting a suitable maize variety using the descriptive list is confusing, says Peter Schofield, whose company, Nickerson, is withdrawing from NIAB maize trials.

&#8226 Questions over descriptive list.

&#8226 Too little emphasis on nutrition?

&#8226 Avoid over-mature crops.

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