The grass between the rows will also have other advantages in addition to the ecological benefits.
Grasses will help keep weeds down. This will reduce the need for herbicides. Also, grasses, combined with some types of fungi, will help reduce the number of insects that require farmers to spray, said Moore.
These ground cover grasses can also be selected for any number of traits, just like corn can be, said Moore.
"We are trying to identify the right system of herbicide, strip tillage, and species combination that minimizes competition with corn and maximizes benefits," said Singer.
The one obstacle that researchers must overcome is the effect on corn yield.
In the current stages of the research, corn yield suffers because of the competition from the ground cover grasses, said Moore.
"Our goal is produce a ground cover that will not interfere or compete with corn production in any way," he said.
Once that problem is solved, the researchers say that using living mulch as ground cover will be an ecologically sound method of keeping a nutrient-rich soil while harvesting stover in the amounts that the USDA predicts.
"I think by the end of the project in two or three more years, I am optimistic that we'll be able to identify the one or two species of grass that we really need to work with for the living mulch," said Lamkey.
"I am also fairly optimistic that we'll be able to identify inbred corn lines that do well in these systems," he said.
That day may not be too far into the future, according to Moore.
"I can envision a day," said Moore, "when smart seed companies are co-developing these packages where they sell ground cover seed and corn hybrids that work in association."
|Contact: Kendall Lamkey|
Iowa State University