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Minimising the environmental impacts of maize cultivation - WQ0140

Maize is a very versatile crop and can be used for forage or increasingly as a grain crop. The area of maize has expanded rapidly from 1,000ha in 1970 to over 160,000 ha in 2012. The increased requirement for maize has been due to its high value as a low-protein, high-starch livestock feed and its reliability. Maize silage is a cost effective alternative to grass silage and in addition to this a recent study in the UK has shown that the use of maize silage in dairy cow diets can reduce the amount of methane produced per kg milk by 6% when compared to ryegrass silage.

Whilst dairy cow and beef numbers may have fallen and the market for livestock feed decreased, a new market for the crop has emerged as a feedstock source for use in anaerobic digestion for biogas production. Replacing the electricity produced from coal, natural gas or oil fired energy with that produced from whole crop maize, used in an anaerobic digester for biogas production, can contribute significantly to reaching the targets set in the Climate Change Act (2008).

Grain maize production may become more viable in the UK if climate change predictions of warmer, drier summers and wetter winters are fulfilled. Whilst forecast increases in temperature up to 3.9°C by 2080 would favour maize production, the additional rainfall would exacerbate the problems of soil erosion and diffuse pollution already being experienced with the crop. Harvesting occurs in late September and October when the soil can already be moist. The heavy machinery tends to compact the soil, increasing the potential for surface runoff and the movement of sediment to nearby watercourses, which can pollute the water with both nutrients and pesticides.

Maize has long been recognised as a source of soil erosion and already a range of measures are in place to minimise pollution in vulnerable areas via a Soil Protection Review or Environmental stewardship. This study aims to develop productive and economically productive techniques for maize cultivation with reduced environmental impacts. Our proposal will de delivered by a project team from ADAS, Maize Growers Association, Plymouth University and Rothamsted Research, North Wyke. The team will consist of experts in crop agronomy, soil erosion, bio-diversity and diffuse pollution.

The project will start with a review of current knowledge of strip tillage and practice in the UK and the effects of climate change on the alternative management techniques. These reviews will inform the design of experiments starting in spring 2012. A range of production techniques will be assessed for soil erosion and diffuse pollution, effects on biodiversity, a cost benefit analysis, risk assessment and GHG assessment. Throughout the project regular workshops, press articles and briefings will bring the research findings to farmers, agronomist and the wider industry. The results from the field experiments will be included in the DTC database and be promoted at DTC events including a stakeholder workshop.
2.2 Objectives

The main aim of this work is to develop productive and economically productive techniques for maize cultivation with reduced environmental impacts.
Specific objectives are to:
1. Part A. Review the current knowledge on strip tillage and identify the key options to be tested in the subsequent trials; and
Part B. Review the alternative management techniques for maize production and the possible effects of projected climate change.
2. Quantify the effects of contrasting cultivation and ground cover management practices on maize yields and quality, soil structural conditions, biodiversity and diffuse pollution.

3. Conduct a cost/benefit and risk assessment of the alternative approaches to cultivation and management of maize.
4. Assess the effects of strip tillage on GHG emissions from maize production and its use in anaerobic digestion and the effectiveness of these production methods for GHG mitigation in the dairy industry.
5. Communicate the results through a knowledge exchange programme.
The scope is maize production across the UK
Time-Scale and Cost
From: 2012

To: 2016

Cost: £1,131,638
Contractor / Funded Organisations
A D A S UK Ltd (ADAS), North Wyke Research
Environmental Impact              
Water Use