Corn stover has significant potential as a livestock feed and as feedstock for biofuel and biochemical production. Tight forage supplies have driven up prices, forcing livestock producers to evaluate lower quality feedstocks for forage, particularly corn stover. Three new commercial cellulosic ethanol plants are coming online in 2014 and what do they have in common? They are all procuring corn stover for their projects.
This increased demand on corn stover has some farmers “pushing their pencils” to determine if they should be harvesting and selling stover from their farm. Conversations with corn growers around Michigan indicate that the concerns at the top of their minds are the nutrient value of stover and long-term soil productivity. Researchers attook this topic one step further in conducting a formal corn grower survey.
Hoque et al. from Iowa State University found that 37 percent of farmers were willing to supply just corn stover, while 64 percent said they would supply two crops, like corn stover and switchgrass. Hoque also found that nutrient loss, distance to markets and long-term biomass market availability were the top three farmer concerns (Table 1).
Table 1. Key issues identified by farmers regarding corn stover harvest in rank order.
Tyndal et al., also at Iowa State University, asked farmers about their knowledge of harvesting corn stover and found that only 24 percent of farmers thought that they were somewhat or well-informed about the issues of harvesting corn stover (Figure 1). This sends a very clear message that extension and outreach are needed to help connect farmers with the latest research about sustainably harvesting corn stover.
Figure 1. Farmer self-rated knowledge about harvesting corn stover.
Source: Corn stover as a biofuel feedstock in Iowa’s bio-economy: An Iowa farmer survey, Tyndall et al.
Based on this information, Michigan State University Extension is working on developing a corn stover harvest project in Michigan that will develop and provide access to the relevant information and research so that farmers can make informed decisions about whether they should harvest stover from their farm.