After corn harvest is complete, mostly cobs, stalks and stover remain in the fields. What farmers decide to do with those commodities can depend on a number of circumstances, but there is much that can be done.
Corn Stalk Bales
Farmers sometimes choose to rake their stalks into rows and then bale them for livestock uses such as forage mixtures and/or bedding. Many times corn stalks are fed with distillers grain (an ethanol production co-product) to livestock as a replacement to regular corn. The bales also provide excellent bedding, especially during the late winter and early spring months when many folks are calving and the ground is typically soggy.
Sometimes farmers are fortunate to have cattle close in proximity to their corn fields allowing them to relieve their pastures and graze the grounds picking up the leftover ears, leaves and other plant remains. This is a double benefit as the cattle have plenty to eat and leave their manure behind supplying organic fertilizer for the soil enhancing it for next year’s growing season.
As the country moves forward and seeks new ways to create low-carbon, renewable, transportation fuels, corn stover is one of the feed stocks that will allow us to do so. In fact there is a POET Biorefining plant in Emmetsburg, Iowa doing just that and recently DuPont has opened an advanced biofuels facility in Nevada, Iowa.
Some farmers feel that doing nothing with their stalks and stover gives them the greatest benefit because it allows the plant matter to break down, recycling nutrients back into the soil and reducing the amount of fertilizer needed during the next growing season. Leaving the residue behind also provides fields with excellent protection from erosion, helps to build soil organic carbon and enhances the soil’s ability to absorb and retain moisture.