Study: Cover Crops Make Corn Stover More Sustainable, Profitable

Farmers using cover crops as a soil conservation method can remove much more corn stover per acre for biofuels or other uses and at the same time potentially increase their income, Purdue University research shows.

The research points to the age-old conservation method as a way to protect the soil and add value. Using cover crops — plants such as crimson clover or annual ryegrass that blanket the soil — farmers can sustainably remove 1.8 tons more stover per acre than they otherwise would remove, the researchers say.

“The most important finding is that the added revenue from stover removal likely would be enough to pay the costs of a cover crop, in most cases,” said Wally Tyner, one of the researchers. “Thus, with a cover crop, more stover removal is environmentally sustainable.”

Corn residue, or stover, left on fields after harvest has long been a promising source of biofuel. But harvesting too much stover strips the soil of nutrients and health. The research is detailed in the Purdue Extension publication Synergies Between Cover Crops and Corn Stover Removal, by Tyner and Michelle Pratt of the agricultural economics department; David J. Muth Jr. of Praxik Inc. of Ames, Iowa; and Eileen J. Kladivko of agronomy. It also was published online by the journal Science Direct.

The research tests whether revenue from stover sales can pay for cover crop costs. It also analyzes the benefits of different cover crops and cover crop mixtures for farmers who just reap the agronomic impact and for farmers who remove and sell corn stover.

“If you have a cover crop, it provides some of the same soil retention, organic matter buildup and other benefits as keeping the stover on the ground. In fact, it provides more,” Tyner said. “So, if there were a viable market for corn stover for biofuels, animal feed or anything else, then the added stover that could be sustainably removed could provide enough revenue to pay for the cover crop costs.”

That means farms would have healthier soil and higher potential revenues, even accounting for costs of seed, planting and terminating. As the U.S. government encourages a transition to biofuels, stover removal is likely to increase. By 2022, the U.S. Energy Independence Act requires that 16 billion gallons of ethanol-like biofuels come from renewable fuel sources. These could be derived from corn stover.

The researchers considered and modeled various benefits for two kinds of farmers: those who harvest corn stover and those who don’t. Cover crops increase net benefits for both — whether in cash or soil health, even compared with a no-till approach.

For farmers who remove and sell the stover, the benefits are financial. Instead of increasing agronomic value, such as soil retention and vitality, the cover crop replaces the corn stover as a protector and preserver of the soil. In turn, more stover can be removed and sold, then turned into biofuel. Considering cost alone, annual ryegrass provided the greatest potential profits in models, but when nitrogen in the soil was accounted for, crimson clover performed better.

But even farmers who don’t remove corn stover may gain agronomic advantages from cover crops – healthier soil with more nutrients that is less likely to erode or compact. For instance, crimson clover adds $21.28 worth of nutrients to the soil per acre and increases the soil organic matter by a value of $44.72 an acre. It reduces soil compaction — essentially when the soil doesn’t get enough air in it — and erosion as well, further increasing the value of the soil for the farmer.

The full article, which includes comparisons and benefit-cost analyses of six cover crops and two cover crop mixes for agronomic advantage or corn stover removal, is available free for download at Purdue Extension’s Education store. Search for publication RE-7-W.

The research also is available on the Science Direct Website.

Source: Lindsey Alexander, Purdue Agriculture News

Topics: ,

Leave a Reply

Stewardship Stories

StewardshipMichigan Agriculture Leaders On Toledo Water Ban: We Want To Be Part Of The Conversation
August 8, 2014
Leaders of Michigan agricultural organizations said Thursday that the government should not have a “knee-jerk reaction” based on last weekend’s water ban in Toledo due to fertilizer run-off in Lake Erie. Read More
StewardshipBayer Lands Honor For Bee Care Center, Other Initiatives
June 3, 2014
Bayer Corp. has been named a 2014 Responsible Care Company of the Year by the American Chemistry Council, thanks in large part to its Drive Toward Zero initiative and North American Bayer Bee Care Center. Read More
StewardshipStrip-Tillage: A Sustainable Effort
March 3, 2014
As sustainable agriculture grows in popularity, interest in custom strip-tillage is growing. Read More
StewardshipCTIC Granted Nearly $500,000 To Examine Benefits Of Cover Crops
October 17, 2013
The Conservation Technology Information Center (CTIC) has received a $482,000 Conservation Innovation Grant to study the benefits of cover crops. Read More

Trending Articles

Equipment2014 Product Of The Year Voting
September 19, 2014
Many new products were introduced to the ag retail marketplace this year. From this group, CropLife IRON and its consulting partners have selected five finalists for the Product of the Year award. Please cast your vote today to help us determine the winner. Read More
FertilizerFall Fertility 2014: Forecasting Fertilizer Use
September 7, 2014
Great crops this year have tapped the soil, and fall work is definitely called for, but how challenging will that get? Read More
CropLife 100CHS To Build $3 Billion Fertilizer Plant In North Dakota
September 5, 2014
The fertilizer plant in Spiritwood will be the single largest investment in CHS history, as well as the single largest private investment project ever undertaken in North Dakota. Read More
EquipmentNew Holland Acquires Miller-St. Nazianz
September 3, 2014
The assets of Miller acquired as part of the transaction will become part of New Holland Agriculture, a CNH Industrial brand, building on a successful four-year partnership between the two companies. Read More
CropLife 100Pinnacle Acquires East Kansas Chemical
September 2, 2014
Ranked 82nd on the CropLife 100, East Kansas Chemical will operate as part of Pinnacle's Performance Agriculture brand. Read More
MAGIE 2014 ShowStopper
EquipmentJohn Deere Again Wins MAGIE ShowStopper Award
August 25, 2014
For the second consecutive year, John Deere was honored at the Midwest AG Industries Exposition (MAGIE) for its new R4045 sprayer. Read More

Latest News

FertilizerFertilizer Outlook And Technology Conference Set For No…
September 30, 2014
Conference participants can expect to gain perspective on the outlook for agriculture and major fertilizer materials and inputs from industry experts. Read More
MicronutrientsVerdesian Acquires Micronutrient Supplier
September 30, 2014
Verdesian Life Sciences has acquired QC Corp., a producer and supplier of granular and dry micronutrients and ferrous sulfate products. Read More
Eric SfiligojHearing From Young Ag Voices
September 30, 2014
Potential future leaders in ag retail had the chance to shine at the recent Mid America CropLife Association meeting. Read More
WebinarsUpcoming Webinars
September 30, 2014
Register for one of our upcoming Webinars or access our archive of past Webinars to view recordings of presentations that may be of interest to you. Read More
Crop InputsSyngenta Appoints New Chief Operating Officer
September 29, 2014
Jon Parr will succeed retiring COO John Atkin at the end of the year. Read More
CropLife 100South Dakota Wheat Growers To Add Grain-Agronomy Facili…
September 26, 2014
Planned to be constructed in Kennebec, the facility will be located along the soon-to-be rehabilitated line of heavy-rail service from Chamberlain to Presho. Read More
CropLife 100GROWMARK Announces Vice President Appointments
September 25, 2014
Two individuals have been appointed Vice President positions on the GROWMARK executive team. Read More
FertilizerFertilizer Industry Organizations Join Global Alliance …
September 25, 2014
The Fertilizer Institute, the International Plant Nutrition Institute and the International Fertilizer Industry Association are encouraging the industry to promote the proper use of fertilizer products to minimize their environmental impact. Read More
Precision AgARA Organized Precision Forum Hits Capitol Hill
September 24, 2014
The Coalition for the Advancement of Precision Agriculture (CAPA) hosted its inaugural Precision Ag Forum, Sept. 18, in Washington, D.C. Read More
FertilizerFactors To Consider When Placing Fertilizer With Seed
September 24, 2014
The type of crop, fertilizer source, row spacing and soil environment all affect how much fertilizer can be safely applied with seed. Read More
FertilizerSidedressing Manure Into Corn Has Promising Results
September 24, 2014
Applying manure to growing crops can boost yields, reduce nutrient losses and give livestock producers another window of time to apply manure to farm fields. Read More
FertilizerWhen To Sample Manure For Analysis
September 24, 2014
Because the goal is to collect a sample that represents the manure actually being applied, the best time to sample is during loading or field application. Here's why. Read More
Syngenta
Seed/BiotechSyngenta Faces Second Lawsuit Over Agrisure Viptera Cor…
September 23, 2014
A second company has sued Syngenta AG over sales of genetically modified corn seed not approved by China. Read More
StewardshipCover Crops Field Guide For Farmers Expanded
September 23, 2014
Farmers interested in planting cover crops to improve soil health now have an updated and expanded resource in the second edition of the Midwest Cover Crops Field Guide. Read More
HerbicidesArysta LifeScience Launches Contest For Wheat Growers
September 23, 2014
The Flush after Flush Photo Finish contest encourages farmers across the U.S. to participate through Instagram or Twitter using the hashtag #FlushAfterFlush. Read More
FertilizerCF Industries Confirms Merger Of Equals Discussions Wit…
September 23, 2014
CF Industries Holdings, Inc. has confirmed that it is in preliminary discussions with Yara International regarding a potential merger of equals transaction. Read More
StewardshipProgram To Examine Ag-Related Practices, Policies To Pr…
September 22, 2014
A panel discussion on October 14 will include a significant discussion on key issues and solutions related to all aspects of harmful algal blooms. Read More
Eric SfiligojIt’s Product Of The Year Voting Season
September 22, 2014
Readers of CropLife IRON will choose 2014’s best new product over the next month. Read More