The Case For Stover
In certain conditions, corn stover can earn the farmer additional revenue and increase yields.
By Richard Banks
Stover removal isn’t appropriate for every farm. Some growers need to retain all the residue on their land to help prevent erosion due to terrain and soil types. Also, sandy and clay soils may need more residue to maintain organic carbon levels important to plant growth.
Relatively new research has determined, however, that many areas in the Corn Belt actually produce higher yields if a portion of the stover is removed. That, in turn, saves time and money otherwise spent on tilling under the entire stand of stover.
“In the case of corn in Iowa and other Midwestern states,” says Maynard Herron, AGCO’s engineering manager at its Hesston, Kan., plant, “many producers have to get rid of at least half of the residue that’s on the field before they plant the next corn crop. With a 50% residue removal, studies over the last seven years have documented an average of about 6 additional bushels per acre of corn on a continuous rotation.”
Add that yield increase to savings from eliminating stalk chopping and a primary tillage operation—about $27 an acre, estimates Herron. Then, the grower can earn additional revenue from the sale of corn stover.
Again, Herron estimates that’s been in the range of $20 to $25 per dry ton (after paying harvest costs) for use as a livestock feed supplement and bedding. With the right equipment, a typical farmer could harvest about 2 tons per acre, leaving the right amount of residue on the field to increase yields.
Added together, a farmer could see a $110 swing in income per acre. Another consideration, says Maynard, is the public policy debate surrounding the production of energy crops. “The importance here,” he notes, “is that crop residues are not a food-versus-fuel question. Now, on the other hand, if you take good corn-producing ground and plant a dedicated energy crop, such as miscanthus or willow, you’ve taken it out of food production.
“Now I want to be clear that many of those dedicated crops are grown in conditions that are not well-suited for food production,” Maynard continues, “and so they’re not really competing with grain. They’re on wetlands or areas that aren’t satisfactory for grain production. Still, it needs to be noted that use of residue, such as corn stover, for bioenergy doesn’t compete with food production, but in some cases actually enhances it.”
MORE: Click on the play button to hear Iowa State’s Dr. Matt Darr talk about the unique solution from AGCO for harvesting stover:
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