Two years into a study looking at methods of combining a living cover crop between corn rows shows that yield can be maintained at high levels using environmentally friendly practices.
Researchers are testing between-row cover grasses as part of research looking at ways to reduce soil runoff and keep vital nutrients in the soils while crop residue, or stover, is removed from farm fields to produce biofuels.
With U.S. government targets requiring a 30 percent displacement of petroleum consumption with fuels made from biomass by the year 2030, agronomy researchers are studying methods of harvesting more and more stover, which previously was left on the field.
Targets will require removing 75 percent of stover to use as biomass in the production of biofuels.
Removing stover can cause more water runoff and deplete soil of the organic material needed to remain productive.
One method of keeping the soil in place and replenished with organic matter is to plant grasses between the corn rows that would stay on the field year round.
"We are looking at trying to grow corn in a perennial sod, so that we can protect the soil and provide these other environmental services at the same time," says Ken Moore, professor of agronomy.
Developing a cover crop system that allows nutrients, organic matter, water and carbon to remain in the soil is a great idea. But farmers won't do it if it reduces yields, says Moore. The results so far have been very encouraging.
After the first two years of the study, researchers have already discovered a system that allows for removal of up to 95 percent of the corn stover, increases the amount of carbon kept in the soil, increases water use efficiency in corn and also maintains corn yield.
Source: Iowa State University