To combat the coming problem, researchers are looking into ways to lower soil erosion while retaining vital organic materials.
"This is a real educational moment," said Singer. "If farmers are going to harvest stover, they have to replace the carbon in the soil."
One promising solution is the idea of planting a ground cover grass between the rows of corn that remains year-round. This grass would not be harvested.
This ground cover, or living mulch, will perform all the functions that corn stover currently does.
"Imagine," says Moore, "a large flat golf course where you've gone through with a tillage instrument and you've tilled-up every 15 inches. That's what it would look like in farmers' fields."
"The value you get for the production system is that you could harvest as much of the corn stover as you want without having any problems with conservation," said Moore.
"There is a lot of ecological sense to this."
The challenges that the researchers are studying include finding which types of grass will not compete with the corn, what type of corn will withstand the competition, and what sort of agronomic practices will work best.
"Corn is not a very competitive species particularly early in the season," said Kendall Lamkey, professor and chair of Iowa State University's agronomy department. "Corn doesn't like to be growing with anything else in the field."
But later in the growing season, corn can be a little more hospitable to having neighbors share its space.
By the time the corn plant is five inches tall, the kernel number on the corn plant is already determined. That is a measure of the plant's potential yield, said Lamkey.
Stress early in the growing season can affect yield greatly, he said.
While this research has just begun, Moore says that this idea is not new.
"Nature does this all the time," he said. "You see prairies that have t
|Contact: Kendall Lamkey|
Iowa State University