Something farmers often called “trash” could be a new cash crop in 2014 as ethanol plants near Nevada and in Emmetsburg that use the leaves, stalks and cobs of the corn plant will begin operations this year. It’s called cellulosic ethanol production and creates a potential market for the corn residue –or stover.
Iowa State University agronomy professor Rick Cruse says stover plays an important role in nurturing soil health and preventing erosion on fields that might otherwise be bare from harvest until planting. He’s confident the companies understand that and make sure enough is left to keep the soil healthy. “There is a pressure to take more when you have an opportunity to make more money by taking more. And that’s a short-term return,” according toe Cruse.
Cruse says as farmers consider whether they want to market stover, they should determine which fields can most readily withstand some stover removal. He says cellulosic production could eventually expand to accept other raw materials. “If a technology is used, which we could covert not only stover but other grasses, we might find a market to put things like switchgrass in areas where we should not have corn and beans,” Cruse says.
Cruse says that would give farmers a cash return on land they’ve taken out of production. He says he sees a window of opportunity if producers and industry are willing to look beyond corn stover. Iowa State Extension will hold a series of meetings this month to answer farmers’ question about stover.