Towards clean and biodiverse maize cultivation

Due to its ease of cultivation, high yields and high nutritional value, maize is an important crop for dairy farming. However, maize cultivation also faces major problems, in terms of negative effects on biodiversity, soil quality and water quality. The Louis Bolk Institute works together with farmers, in several projects, to develop cultivation systems and techniques that will lead to a cleaner and more biodiverse maize cultivation for the livestock sector.

Future, nature-inclusive dairy farming

Maize fits well into an agricultural system that focuses on maximum milk production per cow and per hectare. As a result, silage maize is the main arable crop in the Netherlands, in terms of acreage. But this also creates problems, such as the way this affects the landscape, N emissions to groundwater, use of herbicides, and the deterioration of soil quality and biodiversity. In our view, these problems related to silage maize cultivation must and can be greatly reduced, without maize losing its agricultural value.
In today’s dairy farming practice this can be done, in part, by making different choices in tillage, type of maize, green manure and crop rotation. But it is especially possible in a future, nature-inclusive dairy farming sector in which the added value not only consists of milk production but also of providing other socially relevant ecosystem services, such as biodiversity, the environment, climate adaptation and mitigation, landscape quality and social values.

Maximum supply of ecosystem services

On a nature-inclusive dairy farm, silage maize is in a less prominent position and can be used strategically, both in rationing and in a cropping plan, for maximum delivery of ecosystem services at farm level. This can be done, for example, by choosing mixed cropping with leguminous crops, broader crop rotation, very short season maize varieties that facilitate smart combinations with other crops. Novel cultivation methods with non-inversion tillage and without agro-chemicals contribute to a clean and biodiverse maize crop.


In our maize research projects, we work closely with dairy farmers, machinery developers, fellow researchers and other stakeholders. The focal point of our maize research is the development of a crop with non-inversion tillage (using rotary tillers or disc tillers) that is free of agro-chemicals and also fits in with a crop rotation with temporary clover or other feed crops. If this is successful while maintaining a high roughage production level, silage maize can be a component of dairy farming that contributes to food supply, biodiversity, clean water, climate objectives and soil quality.