Purdue University study finds improved profitability, sustainability in cover crop technique


Nick Fetty | August 5, 2014
Shredded corn stover. (Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center/Flickr)
Shredded corn stover. (Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center/Flickr)

Farmers who use cover crops as a means of soil conservation can produce higher yields of corn stover which leads to increased profits, according to a recent study by researchers at Purdue University.

Cover crops such as crimson clover or annual ryegrass help to “blanket the soil” which allows farmers to sustainably yield an additional 1.8 tons of stover per acre compared to traditional methods, the research finds. This stover can then be used to produce biofuels among other uses. One study suggests that corn stover can “supply as much as 25 percent of the biofuel crop needed by 2030.” However, over-harvesting of corn stover has been known to strip the soil of important nutrients.

Cover crops not only help to produce biomass through corn stover but also have benefits for the soil including reduced erosion even in no-till soil, reduced nitrate leaching, increased soil organic matter, improved soil health, quality, and productivity, as well as fewer winter annual and early season weeds. These techniques can be beneficial for both corn-corn and corn-soybean crop rotations.

The study was a collaboration between researchers at the Purdue Extension as well as Praxic, an Ames, Iowa-based software company. To learn more about corn stover in Iowa, check out the 2013 Iowa Corn Sustainable Corn Stover Harvest guide.

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