The farmer who is the guinea pig for a program that seeks an environmentally friendly way to collect the stalks, leaves and cobs left over from corn harvesting for use in making ethanol says he is pleased with the results. The U.S.D.A. and Dupont announced an agreement Friday to work together on the conservation plans for harvesting what’s known as corn stover and other plant matter.
Jeff Taylor farms 1,600 acres north of Ames and has provided the test material for the program development. “Right now the program we’re working on, I would say they take maybe 40-percent of the corn stover that’s out there. So on a normal year we’d probably produce five to six tons of corn stover — and that would be on a 200 bushel yield,” Taylor says.
“After we get done working with Dupont, at each field they’ll one-point-eight tons per acre that they’ve taken off our fields.” Taylor says the removal of corn stover has been a compliment to his operation. He says farmers are planting more corn on each acre — in his case from around 26,000 seeds an acre five years ago to 34,000 an acre now — and the plants with better genetics take longer to break down.
“We started having a matt of stover in the fall that for producers we started adding more tillage to it to try and control that amount of stover that’s out there because of higher populations. So as you remove a third to 40-percent of that, it saves me a tillage pass , it saves me time as a producer,” Taylor explains.
“And I found within a short period of time, my emergence, as the germination comes out, the seeds come out quicker.” He says Iowa State University has done soil testing throughout and have found the stover removal is helping soil quality. “As we remove a little bit, I’m applying less nitrogen, I’m tilling the soil less and ending up having with the same amount of nutrients back, I’m having the same yields or better. And it’s been a great compliment to us as farmers, Taylor says.
The stover is made into large bales. Taylor says they’ve worked with a combine developed by the Department of Energy that goes through the field and captures the stover as it comes out the back and makes it into bales. Taylor prefers the one-pass method, but says you can also do a second pass and rake up the stover after a regular combine comes through and harvests the corn.
Taylor says the bales of stover add to his bottom line.) “Now we’ve got another commodity that we didn’t have before. So there’s some agronomic things that are benefiting us, there’s some monetary things. We get compensated for the bale too, so for my kids who are going to come up and hopefully be six generation farmers, to me it’s just another revenue stream and a compliment to our farming operation also.
The stover bales from Taylor’s farm — and others in a 30 to 50-mile radius — will go to Nevada where DuPont is building a 30-million-gallon-a-year cellulosic facility.