Corn Stover Harvesting Will Hasten Moves to Cover Crops

Two recent developments, one by Archer Daniels Midland and the other by New Holland, will likely spur the need for cover crops, according to Dan Towery, an Indiana agronomist and cover crop specialist.

The first development: adding hydrated lime (calcium oxide) to corn stover renders the plant material sufficiently digestible (after aging in ag bags), according to studies at Iowa State and the Univ. of Nebraska. The stover is then combined with “wet distillers grains and solubles” (WDGS), a by-product of corn ethanol production. ADM is a leading supplier of distillers grains to the livestock industry. The company is hoping to speed adoption by cattle feeders.

According to an ADM news release, over a six-month period at Iowa State University,  210 steers received the WDGS treated solution mixed with the aged stove. This allowed researchers to cut the percentage of grain in animals’ rations by half—from 70 to 35 percent—without impacting the animals’ growth or development.

The other development is a piece of equipment that attaches to the head of a corn combine during harvest, grinding up corn stover and putting into windrows for easy collection.See more on the hardware by clicking here.

Dan Towery said if this practice becomes popular, it will effectively remove tons of corn stalk residue from fields, thus reducing organic matter important for soil building. Simultaneously, it will leave crop acreage barren and subject to severe erosion, unless farmers plant cover crops. Cover crops like annual ryegrass, crimson clover, cereal rye and radish will keep something growing in the ground, while also preventing erosion, providing organic matter and important soil nutrients as the cover crops decay.

Annual ryegrass, in particular, sucks up the available nitrogen and makes it available to the following corn crop. Likewise, it also breaks up compaction by sending roots deep into the soil (more than 5 feet deep over winter).For more information about annual ryegrass, visit this site.