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Iowa State researchers study ground cover to reduce impact of biomass harvest
Date:7/8/2008

AMES, Iowa -- Ground cover may be one workable method to reduce the effects of erosion that future biomass harvests are predicted to bring.

Iowa State University researchers are looking at ways to use ground cover, a living grass planted between the rows of corn, in production farming.

The seemingly limitless national appetite for ethanol has industry and government looking beyond the kernel to the entire corn plant for more fuel.

But corn, the source of most of the United States' ethanol, is not limitless, so turning corn stalks and leaves into ethanol is the target of much research.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture projects that by the year 2030, about 20 percent of ethanol will be made by turning corn stalks and leaves, known as corn stover, into fuel. That projection assumes that 75 percent of this corn stover can be harvested for biofuels. Currently, stover is not used to make ethanol.

Farmers now leave corn stover on their corn fields to slow wind and water erosion and re-supply the soil with organic material to ensure future productivity.

"The issue is this," said Ken Moore, Iowa State University agronomy professor. "How do you harvest corn stover in a way that sustains the productivity of the environment for producing future corn?"

Just as important as the loss of soil through erosion is the loss of organic material that the removal of the stover would bring.

On an average acre of Iowa farmland, there are roughly four tons of stover. Under the expectations laid out by the USDA, three of those tons would be removed and processed into ethanol. That organic matter that won't be returned to the soil to help future crops grow.

"We know that soil organic matter is critical," said Jeremy Singer of the USDA's National Soil Tilth Laboratory in Ames. "And removing that stover over time is going to decrease the amount of organic matter in the soil. That will lower productivit
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Contact: Kendall Lamkey
krlamkey@iastate.edu
515-294-7826
Iowa State University
Source:Eurekalert  

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