Silage maize as a potent candidate for sustainable animal husbandry development—perspectives and strategies for genetic enhancement
Maize is recognized as the queen of cereals, with an ability to adapt to diverse agroecologies (from 58oN to 55oS latitude) and the highest genetic yield potential among cereals. Under contemporary conditions of global climate change, C4 maize crops offer resilience and sustainability to ensure food, nutritional security, and farmer livelihood. In the northwestern plains of India, maize is an important alternative to paddy for crop diversification in the wake of depleting water resources, reduced farm diversity, nutrient mining, and environmental pollution due to paddy straw burning. Owing to its quick growth, high biomass, good palatability, and absence of anti-nutritional components, maize is also one of the most nutritious non-legume green fodders. It is a high-energy, low-protein forage commonly used for dairy animals like cows and buffalos, often in combination with a complementary high-protein forage such as alfalfa. Maize is also preferred for silage over other fodders due to its softness, high starch content, and sufficient soluble sugars required for proper ensiling. With a rapid population increase in developing countries like China and India, there is an upsurge in meat consumption and, hence, the requirement for animal feed, which entails high usage of maize. The global maize silage market is projected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 7.84% from 2021 to 2030. Factors such as increasing demand for sustainable and environment-friendly food sources coupled with rising health awareness are fueling this growth. With the dairy sector growing at about 4%–5% and the increasing shortage faced for fodder, demand for silage maize is expected to increase worldwide. The progress in improved mechanization for the provision of silage maize, reduced labor demand, lack of moisture-related marketing issues as associated with grain maize, early vacancy of farms for next crops, and easy and economical form of feed to sustain household dairy sector make maize silage a profitable venture. However, sustaining the profitability of this enterprise requires the development of hybrids specific for silage production. Little attention has yet been paid to breeding for a plant ideotype for silage with specific consideration of traits such as dry matter yield, nutrient yield, energy in organic matter, genetic architecture of cell wall components determining their digestibility, stalk standability, maturity span, and losses during ensiling. This review explores the available information on the underlying genetic mechanisms and gene/gene families impacting silage yield and quality. The trade-offs between yield and nutritive value in relation to crop duration are also discussed. Based on available genetic information on inheritance and molecular aspects, breeding strategies are proposed to develop maize ideotypes for silage for the development of sustainable animal husbandry.