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Monitoring Soil Quality to Assess the Sustainability of Harvesting Corn Stover

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Harvesting feedstock for biofuel production must not degrade soil, water, or air resources. Our objective is to provide an overview of field research being conducted to quantify effects of harvesting corn (Zea mays L.) stover as a bioenergy feedstock. Coordinated field studies are being conducted near Ames, IA; St. Paul and Morris, MN; Mead, NE; University Park, PA; Florence, SC; and Brookings, SD., as part of the USDA-ARS Renewable Energy Assessment Project (REAP). A baseline soil quality assessment was made using the Soil Management Assessment Framework (SMAF). Corn grain and residue yield for two different stover harvest rates (approximately50% and approximately90%) are being measured. Available soil data remains quite limited but sufficient for an initial SMAF analysis that confirms total organic carbon (TOC) is a soil quality indicator that needs to be closely monitored closely to quantify crop residue removal effects. Overall, grain yields averaged 9.7 and 11.7 Mg ha-1 (155 and 186 bu acre-1) in 2008 and 2009, values that are consistent with national averages for both years. The average amount of stover collected for the 50% treatment was 2.6 and 4.2 Mg ha-1 for 2008 and 2009, while the 90% treatment resulted in an average removal of 5.4 and 7.4 Mg ha-1, respectively. Based on a recent literature review, both stover harvest scenarios could result in a gradual decline in TOC. However, the literature value has a large standard error, so continuation of this long-term multi-location study for several years is warranted.
Karlen, Douglas L. , Varvel, Gary E. , Johnson, Jane M.F. , Baker, John M. , Osborne, Shannon L. , Novak, Jeff M. , Adler, Paul R. , Roth, Greg W. , Birrell, Stuart J.
Includes references
Agronomy journal 2011 Jan., v. 103, no. 1
Journal Articles, USDA Authors, Peer-Reviewed
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