SDSU scientists are conducting research to determine how much corn stover must remain after harvest and how much can be diverted to make cellulosic ethanol without contributing to loss of soil quality.
As part of the same project, South Dakota State University wants to find out how much biomass crops such as switchgrass and prairie cordgrass will yield in locations where annual crops do not grow well.
SDSU Department of Plant Science professors David Clay, Tom Schumacher, and Gregg Carlson lead the five-year effort. The intent is to develop techniques to increase productivity, and determine profitability, sustainability, and productivity of harvesting corn stover, prairie cordgrass, and switchgrass for cellulosic ethanol production.
Part of the research is to determine the amount of corn stover that can be removed without damaging soil organic content or causing erosion.
“The question that must be resolved is how much corn stover can be sustainably harvested,” Clay said. “The non-harvested crop residues returned to the soil are important to maintain long-term productivity and reduce erosion. Farmers at the focus group clearly stated that they want to participate in this opportunity; however, they do not want to risk their soil.”