It is a common misconception among gamekeepers and shoot managers that maize is, effectively, all the same. Chris Bright is here to tell us why this isn’t the case…
By all accounts, maize was not originally intended to be grown in the UK, especially in the midlands and north. The general climate, coupled with our relatively short growing season, is not the most conductive environment for this semi-tropical crop. It is thanks only to years of research and breeding that maize is now a familiar sight across the landscape – whether for forage, grain or game.
What’s the Difference Between Game, Forage and Grain Maize?
Apart from the myth that all maize varieties are the same; another myth is that game maize is more expensive than forage maize.
This is not the case. Forage maize requires a vast amount of time, money and manpower – the extensive breeding programme associated with registering a new variety in the UK costs in excess of £10,000. Therefore, the notion that forage maize is somehow cheaper simply doesn’t make sense.
More often than not, game maize comes from grain varieties, but forage varieties that have fallen out of favour with growers play their part as well. While starch, digestibility, yield and earliness are all factors for the farmer; the gamekeeper ‘s predominant concern is that it stands well and for a long time. With breeders firmly focused on the requirements of the farmer, a forage maize is more often superseded by new up and coming varieties, while a game maize is likely to hold its place in the market for longer.
A true game maize – such as our Flightpath – is undigestible if foraged; its initial purpose was for grain, so it was bred to hold a cob and be combined in November or December.
What Makes Flightpath so Suitable as a Game Maize?
Flightpath maize, which is exclusive to Bright Seeds, originated in Northern Europe as a grain maize and is still grown for such in some countries; e.g., France and Ukraine. But it is as a game maize that it stands out in the UK.
What makes Flightpath and other top game maize varieties stand out is the high level of lignin in the stem. Lignin is a naturally occurring element that provides plant cell walls with strength and stiffness, thus giving it the standing power, which sets it apart.
A forage maize on the other hand would be expected to have low levels of lignin because the whole plant is eaten, so digestibility is an important consideration. This explains why good forage maize does not typically make good game maize: at the time when game maize comes into its own (November and December), a forage maize with its softer stem will likely have collapsed under its own weight.
The fact that Flightpath is still actively produced in Europe is another key benefit because we know exactly what we are dealing with – a short-stemmed, strong variety that stands well. We also know it will produce a decent sized cob that can be hand-picked, combined and resold (we have some customers who use it to feed pheasants). Knowing you can confidently source a particular variety that has all these beneficial features is extremely reassuring for our customers.
Another point to consider, and perhaps a reason why maize varieties are still a little misunderstood, is that maize is still relatively new to the UK.
What role did your Father, David Bright, play in the UK maize market?
David Bright – my, father and founder of Bright Seeds – was a pioneer in developing the UK forage maize market around 40 years ago when the business began. Previously, maize was very much confined to the South East of England, but through his work with Northern European breeders like Maisadour and RAGT, varieties started to be bred that could cope with the stresses of the Midlands and the North.
After my father positioned Bright Seeds as a key player in the forage maize market, he was in a good position to begin developing the UK game maize market. We were able to speak to breeders in Europe and choose from long lists of varieties that we felt would stand strong and long. This is why, we feel, Bright Seeds is in an authoritative position to sell and advise on game maize varieties. It’s in our blood!
What Does The Future Look Like?
There will always be a place for maize in the gamecover market. In most situations, it is easy to grow, is fairly drought tolerant (a vital benefit if the last few growing seasons are anything to go by) and is tolerant of multiple herbicide options for weed control. Furthermore, at the growing stage – when it is most vulnerable – nothing really eats it. On smaller shoots, contractors can be brought in to drill the maize, there is often forage maize nearby, so a maize drill is never too far away.
Although some view maize as a costly option, which it can be, it is also one of the most cost-effective crops because it is able to offset much of the initial cost. As mentioned, it is normally easy to establish, and it carries the added bonus – particularly with a cobbing variety like Flightpath – of providing an additional feed source. A good game maize can see yields of 3-7 tonnes per hectare of grain and this can then be processed and used for dog, cattle and pheasant feed amongst others.
Clearly, and even more so with the introduction of ELMs, stewardship options like AB9 Wild bird cover have a role to play. However, these mixtures are harder to establish and are limited with herbicide usage.
Ultimately, if a shoot is looking to run days in December and January, a good quality game maize is essential. The difference between a top and a lesser variety over half a hectare is somewhere around £15 / pack, not close to the price of one bird shot! Understandably right now, savings need to be made, but buying the right game maize will pay dividends come the end of the season.