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An assessment of the factors controlling the productivity of maize in England

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  27 March 2009

E. S. Bunting
Agricultural Research Council's Unit of Experimental Agronomy, Department of Agriculture, University of Oxford
G. E. Blackman
Agricultural Research Council's Unit of Experimental Agronomy, Department of Agriculture, University of Oxford


Between 1942 and 1950, some thirty field experiments have been carried out in the southern half of England to assess the potential value, either for grain or forage production, of seventeen openpollinated flint or dent maizes together with twentynine single or double hybrids of American or Canadian origin.

Early-maturing flint varieties will consistently ripen grain, but before mechanical threshing or storage, the cobs require drying. Sibthorp, a mass selection made from an unknown German variety, is the earliest and most productive flint maize so far tested, and in the experiments has yielded as much as 39 cwt. of grain per acre with an average of 24 cwt. The earliest American hybrids, i.e. those with a U.S.A. rating of 80 days from sowing to maturity, give very high yields of grain in favourable seasons. Within the group Wisconsin 240–275, a yield level equal to or exceeding 50 cwt./acre has on occasion been recorded. On the other hand, in the most unfavourable years, such hybrids just failed to produce ripe cobs.

Attempts to maintain sixty-five parent inlines of the earliest hybrids have largely failed. However, many of the parent single crosses have matured, and the production on a field scale of the double-cross seed of both Wisconsin 240 and 255 has been carried out.

Spacing experiments indicate that for optimum grain production a density of 6 plants/sq.yd. is required for both flint varieties and the earliest hybrids. A spatial arrangement of individual plants is to be preferred to that of groups or hills.

American hybrids, in the class of ‘90 days’ to maturity, will in all but the most unfavourable seasons reach the ‘early-dent’ stage of the grain before the incidence of autumn frosts. Yields of dry matter of plants harvested in this phase have ranged from 30 to 85 cwt. of dry matter per acre. In these trials, the plant density was standardized at 4 plants/sq.yd. and higher densities may be demanded for optimal yields.

The ratio of the ‘ear’ (that is, the cob, immature grain and enclosing leaf sheaths) to the total shoot weight at harvest varies greatly with the variety or hybrid. With White Horsetooth, the usual variety grown for fodder in England, no cobs are formed before the plants are killed by frost, while with the early hybrids, the ear may be half the weight of the whole shoot.

The earliest variety Sibthorp from an early May sowing takes approximately 70–80 days to reach full anthesis, while ‘80-day’ American hybrids are a week later. From sowing to full maturity the period in England is from 140 to 160 days, thus compared to conditions in Minnesota the period is nearly twice as long. Because of the much slower rate of development and because of the humidity of English autumns, it is concluded that until the date of maturity can be advanced some 14 days, grain production on a field scale is not yet feasible. On the other hand, many of the American hybrids are well fitted to the production of silage. The greatest drawback to the introduction of such hybrids is the liability of the seed and seedlings to be attacked by rooks.

Research Article
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1951

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