From lab to land | Fodder Maize for Profitable Dairying in Kashmir Valley

Livestock production is the backbone of Indian agriculture and a source of livelihood for rural population. In an era of modernization and urbanization, smart and climate-resilient agriculture coupled with upkeep of livestock on scientific lines is the only way out to enhance livestock productivity and production and to meet the ever-increasing human demand for livestock products. Fast shrinking land under fodder production and increasing cultivation of cereal and cash crops has put a tremendous production pressure on livestock. It therefore has strained scientists from agriculture and allied disciplines either to improve the nutrient quality of existing feed and fodder or to research for newer acceptable and viable alternatives. The work is going on in both directions in SKUAST Kashmir, and varietal development of Shalimar Fodder Maize – 1 is an evidence of well-directed and applied research.  Yes, it needs to be taken from lab to land by the extension wing of the varsity, and to the development departments for wider and large scale adoption. In proposed action plan twenty20-21, Krishi Vigyan Kendra, Kupwara, in collaboration with Dryland Agriculture Research Station of the varsity has taken up the job of demonstrating potential of Shalimar Fodder Maize – 1 as livestock fodder in aspiring district Kupwara. And similar exercise shall be done in rest of the valley through SKUAST-run KVKs.

Maize has an important place in food grain basket of India and is the 3rd most important versatile food grain crop owing to its value in food, feed, speciality corn, starch etc. The last few years have seen dramatic changes in productivity and production of maize. Adoption of single cross maize hybrids has revolutionized maize production. Consequently, it has registered the highest growth rate of 6.4 %, the highest among all other food crops, surpassing 4 % growth rate for agriculture in general and 4.7 % for maize in particular as the target set by Planning Commission. As per the latest estimates of Ministry of Agriculture, GoI, maize productivity is heading towards a record output of 21.28 mt this year as against 16.72 mt produced last year. Consumption pattern for maize in India at present includes poultry feed 52 %, human food 24 %, animal feed 11 % and more than 22 % going towards industrial processing.

Maize is a warm weather plant and grows from sea level to 3000 metres altitude. It can be grown under diverse climatic conditions. Kharif (monsoon) season is the main growing season in northern India. It requires considerable moisture and warmth from germination to flowering. The most suitable temperature for germination is 21°C and for growth 32°C. During flowering extremely high temperature and low humidity damage the foliage, desiccate the pollen and interfere with proper pollination, resulting in poor grain formation. About 50 to 75 cm of well distributed rain is conducive for proper growth. It is very sensitive to stagnant water, particularly during its early stages of growth.

Maize is an excellent crop in terms of biomass production. Its straw is used as animal fodder since ancient times. However, fodder quality of green maize is far excellent. Amongst the non-legume cultivated fodders, maize is the only fodder which produces better nutritional quality along with good quantity of biomass. Its quality is much better than sorghum and pearl millet owing to anti-quality components HCN and oxalate respectively in the latter two. Secondly, baby corn is ready for harvest approximately 2 months after sowing indicating baby corn as well as maize fodder is available in bulk just 2 months after sowing. Both crude protein and in-vitro dry matter digestibility, two important nutritional quality parameters governing fodder quality, are highest in maize among other competitive fodders.

For profitable dairying, year round fodder supply is a must. However, in Kashmir, farmers routinely face an acute shortage of green fodder during lean periods (November – December & May – June), and are forced to feed nutritionally poor straws and stovers, and costly concentrates to meet cattle daily dietary requirements and maintain their level of production; making it economically a non- viable enterprise. Therefore, production and conservation of forages in sufficient quantity and of good quality is of paramount importance. Shalimar Fodder Maize – 1 offers a good alternative in addressing this issue. Its use at 50 % maturity as green fodder and as silage during winter months can help optimize animal performance and alleviate economic stress on farmers’.

SKUAST scientists are determined to take this technology to field but the onus lies with the farmers’ for its adoption. It is believed that this proven variety will help reduce parasitic disease (Fascioliasis/Liver fluke) incidence and/or other complications associated with long-term use of paddy straw as cattle fodder. This alternative will help reduce protein-energy-mineral related health issues in dairy cattle. This variety of “miracle crop/queen of cereals” will help address the much- talked and worried issue of fodder scarcity in Kashmir valley. This surely will prove its research-revealed potential in farmers’ field and provide much needed respite to the farming community in making dairying a sustainable and profitable venture.

(Zahoor Ahmad Dar is Professor, Dryland Agriculture Research Station, SKUAST Kashmir & Aijaz Ahmad Dar is SMS (Animal Science), KVK Kupwara, SKUAST Kashmir)