Over 100,000 hectares are now devoted to maize grown mainly in England and Wales. It has become a very important silage crop; second in importance only to grass. In ideal circumstances it is capable of yielding 60 tonnes freshweight per hectare and the UK average is a very respectable 40 tonnes. It likes south facing, well drained soils and has a need for fairly high soil reserves of NPK because of the size of the crop. It responds very well in soils with large quantities of ploughed in manure. In recent years seed contaminated with Barnyard Grass (Echinochloa), a wild relative of millet from the Americas, has become a problem, along with nightshade, cleavers and nettles. This problem is exacerbated by mono-cropping; maize should be grown one year in three at the most.
Maize was originally domesticated from sub-tropical grasses 5000 years ago in Mexico. In our northern climates we grow forage species in the main, but the further north, the more marginal it becomes and it is difficult to grow at more than 500 feet above sea level. In northern England it is often grown through black plastic sheeting to maximise soil temperatures, which has the benefit of weed suppression but increases costs.
Maize delivers many of the requirements of a good forage crop as it is very palatable to cattle and has a high feed value, the averages being:
Dry Matter 30%
Energy 11-12MJ ME/kg of Dry Matter
NDF 35-40%
The principal limitation of modern maize varieties is their inability to take up essential nutritional minerals from the soil, a problem shared by tetraploid ryegrasses. Supplementary minerals mixed into the ration are not as available to the animal as are minerals in the natural organic compounds found in mineral-rich forages.

Field Science has a solution, which is to minerally-enhance the soils on which the maize is grown which goes some way towards solving the problem. To complete the picture, plant breeders need to concentrate, having produced desired yields, on improving the ability of maize cultivars to take up nutrients from poorer soils. Much of the developing world relies on maize as their staple diet and suffers from acute micronutrient deficiencies, so there will be no shortage of customers for improved varieties.

In many countries maize is still a staple food of paramount importance, often going under the name of ‘mealie’ (in the USA it is called corn). Maize was the staple diet of the Aztec and Mayan civilisations and was an important food for the Incas, who also domesticated the potato. To this day it is used to make the tortilla, a food thought to date back to 3000BC.