Maize or corn is the third most important cereal crop after rice and wheat for India. Globally it is highly valued for its multifarious use as food, feed, fodder and raw material for large number of industrial products. Maize with its wide adaptability it can be grown with elevation ranging from sea level to up to 3000 m above mean sea level. It is grown on 188 million ha area in more than 170 countries across the globe with 1060 million MT of production. Worldwide China has maximum area under maize followed by the USA, both together representing 39% of world maize area. Since 2005, India ranks 4th in terms of area with 9.2 million ha land under maize. The USA is the top maize producer followed by China, contributing 34% and 22% of world maize production. However, India remained among the top 10 producers of maize in the World since 1961 and presently ranks 7th with annual output of 28 million MT. The productivity of maize in India is little above 3 t/ha, which is slightly more than the half of world average (5.6 t/ha). However, per day productivity of maize in India is comparable to many of the advanced countries. India has strategic and geographical advantage over other countries towards supply of maize to international market. This include round-the-year production of maize in our country, low freight charges, well-established seed production and marketing network and availability of sea-port. However, the domestic demand itself is very high. Hence, export of maize from India is not that significant at the moment.
Maize in India was traditionally a kharif or rainy season crop of northern India. However, since mid-1980s there is a distinct shift in maize cultivation, when larger area under maize shifted to peninsular India. Currently peninsular India represents over 40% of maize area and 50% total maize production. Simultaneously rabi or winter maize has also made significant inroads in nontraditional belts like coastal Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Telangana, West Bengal and others. Spring maize is also becoming popular in north western plains (Punjab, Haryana and western Uttar Pradesh). Karnataka (1.3 million ha), Madhya Pradesh (1.3 million ha), Maharashtra (1.0 million ha), Telangana and Andhra Pradesh (0.9 million ha), Rajasthan (0.8 million ha) are the principal maize growing states of the country. Rabi maize is gaining much faster spread in West Bengal in recent past.
Currently 47% of maize produced in India is consumed in feed industry, while 13% goes as animal feed. Starch industry consumes around 14% of maize. Over decades use of maize as direct food has reduced considerably, now pegs at around 13%. However, there is an increasing trend to use maize as processed food, which contributes to around 7% of annual maize consumption in the country. Use of specialty corns, viz., sweet corn, baby corn and popcorn is a recent dimension where maize cultivation is getting integrated with rural entrepreneurship and agro-business. Silage maize is also rapidly gaining popularity. Baby corn, sweet corn and maize as silage can effectively get integrated with dairy industry. Maize is the most fitted crop to realize the government goal to double farmers’ income.
To strategize policy to increase national food grain production Government of India Constituted a high-powered committee in 1952, which was represented by EJ Wellhousen and UJ Grant of Rockefeller Foundation. Realizing the potential of maize to contribute to food grain production in its recommendation in 1954 the committee identified maize as the most potential commodity. Based on recommendation of the committee in 1957 the All India Coordinated Research (AICRP) on Maize was initiated. This was the first of such a coordinated programme in India. The AICRP on Maize has contributed immensely in increasing maize area and production in India. Till date >430 Improved cultivars have been released through AICRP network, of which nearly 300 are bred under public sector. In the initial phase the emphasis was on double cross hybrids, which shifted to open pollinated varieties (OPVs) in late 1960s onwards. However, realizing the potential of hybrids in increasing productivity gradually the emphasis moved back to different types of hybrids, and currently the focus of research is exclusively for single cross hybrids, except for the difficult terrains of hilly India.
The trajectory of maize development in India has remained very phenomenal, when the production has increase by almost 16 times from less than 2 mt in 1950s. This has happened due to nearly three times increase in area and five times increase in productivity. The growth rates of maize area, production and productivity have remained the highest among all cereals over last two decades. The demand for maize in feed industry has remained a driving force in increased area under maize cultivation. Availability of productive cultivars and improved crop production practices have contributed significantly towards maize growth trajectory. There are tremendous opportunities to further enhance maize production in the country.
Maize with less than half of water requirement than rice is the best bet to diversify the rice-based cropping system, particularly in the north western plain zone. The upland rice during kharif season and boro rice need to shift to maize. Similarly, wherever wheat is experiencing terminal heat stress, or kharif sorghum suffering from grain mold, or cotton suffering drought stress, maize can be a profitable alternative. Under flood prone areas baby corn and sweet corn with shorter crop duration can fit well. However, this needs policy support where drying and storage facilities are to be provided to the farmers at least at taluka level, so that the maze growers can harness full benefits of minimum support price (MSP). Cultivation of baby corn and sweet corn requires additional infrastructure support to maintain the quality of the produce. Quality protein maize (QPM) is a group of maize which has better biological value than traditional maize and can contribute significantly towards nutritional security of poor and tribal masses. The institute is working on development of QPM hybrids without yield penalty. However, to take QPM to the end users policy interventions are needed to grow QPM as QPM Village. Maize starches are of two types, amylose and amylopectin – each having different industrial relevance as well as implication as food. Focused attention on starch type may have larger dividend in near future.
The country needs 65 million t of maize by 2050. This increase in production should preferably come from increase in the productivity rather than the area. The most critical factors to realize this are enhancement and diversification of germplasm using modern tools and techniques, development of diverse and productive inbreds, development and fine-tuning of resource conservation techniques and to bring down cost of cultivation by enhancing resource use efficiency by maize. Kharif maize with around 2.2 t/ha productivity represents around 83% of maize cultivated area, while rabi maize has productivity of above 4 t/ha and constitute little less than 17% maize area. Spring maize shows very high yield potential but considering the high-water requirement large cultivation of spring maize should be discouraged. While rabi and spring maize is cultivated under assured ecosystem, over 80% of kharif maize is cultivated as rainfed crop. Both biotic and abiotic stresses under rainfed maize result into lower yield of kharif maize. Increasing kharif maize productivity will remain key to augment the maize productivity in India. Development of climate resilient single cross hybrids is focus of Indian maize programme. In this regard the high yielding cultivars are yet to reach to one-third of the farmers, particularly is less endowed ecosystems. The most productive cultivar type i.e. single cross hybrids (SCHs) are grown on little more than 50% of acreage under maize. Timely availability of improved seed is still an issue. Seed production and marketing through public private partnership is need of the hour. Adoption of improved cultivation practices needs to be up-scaled. Institute, in partnership with other stake holders in maize value chain, is constantly striving for excellence in maize research and development to deliver better technologies to farmers and to have a productive, profitable, sustainable and climate resilient maize-based cropping systems.