What is in this article?:
Thinking about corn stover harvest?
- Evaluate each field separately for residue harvest sustainability. Stover removal is not an option on every field, says USDA-ARS Soil Scientist Jane Johnson. “On erodible land, don’t even think about it!”
- Consult erosion and soil carbon index tools from NRCS before you make a decision. Stover harvest will be most feasible for producers achieving high yields with continuous-corn systems.
- Maintain a strong fertility testing and nutrient management program.
- Reduce or eliminate tillage and employ other soil conservation practices.
- Add a perennial or cover crop to your rotation.
Sources: Jane Johnson, USDA-ARS North Central Soil Conservation Lab, Douglas Karlen, USDA-ARS National Laboratory for Agriculture and the Environment
What’s it worth?
The Greenfields haven’t changed their tillage practices — they apply liquid manure, followed by chisel plowing — “but we are getting a better seedbed in the spring,” which leads to “more consistent stands,” Mike Greenfield says. “We feel that over the long term, removing some stover may improve continuous corn yields.” Even a 5% yield bump would be significant for growers, he says.
Dupont stover payments cover nutrient replacement costs, primarily for potassium, Greenfield says. The company arranges for harvesting and transporting the bales. Poet DSM pays farmers $20 to $25 per dry ton for custom-baled and transported biomass, or $60 to $75 per dry ton if the grower does the harvesting and hauling. Biomass payments also depend on contract length, delivery timing and other factors.
But selling stover “is not primarily a cash-in-the-pocket deal,” Struthers says. “The real advantage for me is removal of material that harbors disease, and faster warm-up in the spring: it’s the agronomic benefits for continuous corn.”
Growers worry that corn stover harvest could delay fall fieldwork, especially in a wet year. “We may see some growing pains in the supply chain,” as stover collection expands, Greenfield says. “But I’d be willing to put up with some inconvenience for the benefits.”