Edited by Stuart J. Smyth, Peter W.B. Phillips and David Castle
Maize (Zea mays L. ssp. mays), known in North America as corn, is an annually cropped grass that was domesticated in what is now Mexico approximately 6000-7000 years ago. The crop had spread throughout much of the Americas before European explorers in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries carried seed back for cultivation and introduced maize to other countries. Evolution of maize through selection, and more recently breeding, over thousands of years has resulted in multiple biotypes that can be grown in diverse climates (Carpenter et al., 2002; James, 2003). Hybrid maize varieties developed from the crossing of inbred lines were introduced for widespread commercialization in the 1930s in the US and quickly dominated maize production, reaching 90 per cent adoption by 1945. By 1999, 94 per cent of maize acreage in developed countries and 54 per cent of maize acreage in developing countries was planted with hybrid varieties (James, 2003). An analysis of the process of adapting and distributing hybrid seed maize and its rate of adoption by US farmers was a key development in the literature on the economics of technological change (Griliches, 1957). Today maize is among the most important crops grown in the world, accounting for the greatest tonnage produced (1.1 billion metric tonnes in 2009/10), second only to wheat (and followed closely by rice) in terms of area, with nearly 158 million hectares harvested in 2009/2010 (Anonymous, 2011).
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