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Colorado Corn Stover

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Corn Stover is the residue left in the field after the corn has been harvested. Corn stover is the other half of the corn plant that remains on the surface aside from the corn kernels. The stover is 50% stalks, 22% leaves, 15% cob, and 13% husk. Stover does not include the crown and its surface roots. Most of the time with Till farming this residue is left in the field to be tilled into the ground to provide nutrients and erosion protection.

About one ton of corn stover is produced for every one ton of corn grain. Corn grain yields per acre have increased by 60 percent from the early 1970s, from about 85 bushels per acre nationwide to about 135 today. Corn stover yields have increased proportionately. About 250 million dry tons of stover are produced each year.

Some surface residue—a minimum of 30 percent coverage—is required by USDA guidelines for erosion protection. Relating mass to soil cover is guess work. The actual amount of stover that must remain to prevent soil erosion varies greatly, depending on local conditions such as soil type, slope of the field, length of slope, tillage practice and crop rotation. With no-till cultivation, about 150 million dry tons could be taken off the land. For no-till fields with slopes less than 4%, the required cover varies from 0.5 to 1.5 tons/acre. So if the yield is 180 bu/acre (5 tons/acre), 3.5 to 4.5 tons can be removed while complying with Best Management Practices (BMPs) for residue set down by the USDA. For mulch till, the required cover amount is about doubled to 1 to 3 tons/acre, leaving 1 to 2 to 3 tons/acre available for removal. Generally, no stover can be removed from conventional tilled fields and still comply with BMPs.However as the practice of no till continues to grow in Colorado this resource is available as biomass to produce bioenergy. It is estimated that there is 2,524,000 dry tons per year available in the state of Colorado, this number includes wheat residues as well.

There are many research studies that are ongoing into the economical recovery of this valuable by product. Many have shown that at $50 per dry ton it is both profitable for the farmer and practical for biomass energy.

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Written by Casey McConnell

February 15, 2008 at 10:45 pm

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