Corn Stover Harvest: Likely Effects on Soil Productivity - UNL CropWatch, Aug. 17, 2012

Corn Stover Harvest: Likely Effects on Soil Productivity - UNL CropWatch, Aug. 17, 2012

August 17, 2012

Demand for corn stover for cattle feeding is likely to be especially high this year. Poor rainfed corn performance and drought-stressed pastures and rangeland are likely to be slow to recover in 2013 and stover will be needed to feed cows.

Table 1. Effect of N rate and percent corn crop residue removal on no-till rainfed corn grain yield, averaged over 12 years.
N rate No residue removed 100% residue removed
lb/ac Grain yield, bu/ac

 60  87 83
120 116 118
180 112 114

Table 2. Effect of tillage and percent corn crop residue removal on irrigated corn grain yield, averaged over 10 years.
 Residue removed Grain yield
(bu/ac)
% Disked No-till

 0 211 189
 50 209 202
100 210 206

Corn stover harvest is addressed in more detail in the recently revised NebGuide G1846, Harvesting of Crop Residues.

Many growers are concerned that occasional stover harvest will reduce yield potential. However, the results of two long-term studies conducted by the USDA Agricultural Research Service at the UNL’s ARDC do not suggest a reason for concern for many eastern Nebraska fields and for irrigated land.

The effect of N rate with 0 or 100% crop residue removal for continuous rainfed corn was higher yield with 120 compared with 60 lb N/ac applied in an ongoing trial initiated in 2000 (Table 1). Residue removal did not have a long-term effect on average grain yield (Table 1). In an irrigated trial started in 2001, residue removal did not affect yield with disk tillage, but yield was increased by residue removal with no-till (Table 2). Soil organic matter has not been measurably affected by residue harvest.

These results are solid evidence that grain yield is not likely to be reduced by occasional residue harvest for medium texture soils in eastern Nebraska and often increased with no-tillage. We cannot reliably extend these results to sandy soils, to rainfed conditions in drier parts of the state, and to low organic matter soils.

Charles Wortmann
Extension Soils Nutrient Management Specialist
Gary Varvel
Soil Scientist, USDA Agricultural Research Service, Lincoln