BioEnergy Research

, Volume 3, Issue 4, pp 342–352 | Cite as

Nutrient Removal as a Function of Corn Stover Cutting Height and Cob Harvest

  • Jane M. F. Johnson
  • Wally W. Wilhelm
  • Douglas L. Karlen
  • David W. Archer
  • Brian Wienhold
  • David T. Lightle
  • David Laird
  • John Baker
  • Tyson E. Ochsner
  • Jeff M. Novak
  • Ardell D. Halvorson
  • Francisco Arriaga
  • Nancy Barbour


One-pass harvest equipment has been developed to collect corn (Zea mays L.) grain, stover, and cobs that can be used as bioenergy feedstock. Nutrients removed in these feedstocks have soil fertility implication and affect feedstock quality. The study objectives were to quantify nutrient concentrations and potential removal as a function of cutting height, plant organ, and physiological stage. Plant samples were collected in 10-cm increments at seven diverse geographic locations at two maturities and analyzed for multiple elements. At grain harvest, nutrient concentration averaged 5.5 g N kg−1, 0.5 g P kg−1, and 6.2 g K kg−1 in cobs, 7.5 g N kg−1, 1.2 g P kg−1, and 8.7 g K kg−1 in the above-ear stover fraction, and 6.4 g N kg−1, 1.0 g P kg−1, and 10.7 g K kg−1 in the below-ear stover fraction (stover fractions exclude cobs). The average collective cost to replace N, P, and K was $11.66 Mg−1 for cobs, $17.59 Mg−1 for above-ear stover, and $18.11 Mg−1 for below-ear stover. If 3 Mg ha−1 of above-ear stover fraction plus 1 Mg of cobs are harvested, an average N, P, and K replacement cost was estimated at $64 ha−1. Collecting cobs or above-ear stover fraction may provide a higher quality feedstock while removing fewer nutrients compared to whole stover removal. This information will enable producers to balance soil fertility by adjusting fertilizer rates and to sustain soil quality by predicting C removal for different harvest scenarios. It also provides elemental information to the bioenergy industry.


Corn cobs Corn stover Plant nutrition Soil fertility Biofuel feedstock 



Bonferroni minimum significant difference


General linear model


Inductively coupled plasma-optical emission spectroscopy


Least significant difference


Minimum detection limit


Soil organic carbon



The authors dedicate this publication to Dr. Wally Wilhelm. We thank B. Burmeister for proofreading, but we take full responsibility for any errors. We also thank the reviewers and Dr. Michael Casler for insightful and constructive suggestions for improvements. We acknowledge the efforts of technical and student helpers for sampling and processing plant tissue samples. This work contributes to the USDA-Agricultural Research Service, cross-location–Renewable Energy Assessment Project (REAP). Publication costs were covered by funding from the North Central Regional Sun Grant Center at South Dakota State University through a grant provided by the US Department of Energy Office of Biomass Programs under award number DE-FC36-05GO85041.

Supplementary material

12155_2010_9093_MOESM1_ESM.doc (218 kb)
ESM 1 (DOC 218 kb)


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Copyright information

© US Government 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jane M. F. Johnson
    • 1
  • Wally W. Wilhelm
    • 2
  • Douglas L. Karlen
    • 3
  • David W. Archer
    • 4
  • Brian Wienhold
    • 2
  • David T. Lightle
    • 5
  • David Laird
    • 3
  • John Baker
    • 6
  • Tyson E. Ochsner
    • 6
    • 10
  • Jeff M. Novak
    • 7
  • Ardell D. Halvorson
    • 8
  • Francisco Arriaga
    • 9
  • Nancy Barbour
    • 1
  1. 1.North Central Soil Conservation Research LaboratoryUSDA-Agricultural Research ServiceMorrisUSA
  2. 2.Agroecosystems Management Research UnitUSDA-Agricultural Research ServiceLincolnUSA
  3. 3.National Laboratory for Agriculture and the EnvironmentUSDA-Agricultural Research ServiceAmesUSA
  4. 4.Northern Great Plains Research LaboratoryUSDA-Agricultural Research ServiceMandanUSA
  5. 5.USDA-NRCS National Soil Survey CenterLincolnUSA
  6. 6.Soil and Water Management Research UnitUSDA-Agricultural Research ServiceSt. PaulUSA
  7. 7.Coastal Plains Research CenterUSDA-Agricultural Research ServiceFlorenceUSA
  8. 8.USDA-Agricultural Research ServiceFort CollinsUSA
  9. 9.National Soil Dynamics Research LaboratoryUSDA-Agricultural Research ServiceAuburnUSA
  10. 10.Department of Plant and Soil SciencesOklahoma State UniversityStillwaterUSA

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