The Impact of Corn Residue Removal on Soil Aggregates and Particulate Organic Matter
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Removal of corn (Zea mays L.) stover as a biofuel feedstock is being considered. It is important to understand the implications of this practice when establishing removal guidelines to ensure the long-term sustainability of both the biofuel industry and soil health. Aboveground and belowground plant residues are the soil’s main sources of organic materials that bind soil particles together into aggregates and increase soil carbon (C) storage. Serving to stabilize soil particles, soil organic matter (SOM) assists in supplying plant available nutrients, increases water holding capacity, and helps reduce soil erosion. Data obtained from three Corn Stover Regional Partnership sites (Brookings, SD; Morris, MN; and Ithaca, NE) were utilized to evaluate the impact of removing corn stover on soil physical properties, including dry aggregate size distribution (DASD), erodible fraction (EF), and SOM components. Each site consisted of a combination of three residue removal rates (low—removal of grain only, intermediate—approximately 50 % residue removal, and high—maximum amount of residue removal). Results showed that the distribution of soil aggregates was less favorable for all three locations when residue was removed without the addition of other sources of organic matter such as cover crops. Additionally, we found that when residue was removed and the soil surface was less protected, there was an increase in the EF at all three research sites. There was a reduction in the EF for both the Brookings, SD, and Ithaca, NE sites when cover crops were incorporated or additional nitrogen (N) was added to the system. Amounts of SOM, fine particulate organic matter (fPOM), and total particulate organic matter (tPOM) consistently decreased as greater amounts of residue were removed from the soil surface. Across these three locations, the removal of crop residue from the soil surface had a negative impact on measured soil physical properties. The addition of a cover crop or additional N helped reduce this impact as measured through aggregate size distribution and EF and SOM components.
KeywordsBioenergy Second generation feedstock Sustainable Renewable energy Soil health
Project funding was provided by the United States Department of Agriculture—Agricultural Research Service (USDA-ARS), as part of the USDA—ARS—Resilient Economic Agricultural Practices (REAP)/formally Renewable Energy Assessment Project. Additional funding was from the North Central Regional Sun Grant Center at South Dakota State University through a grant provided by the United States Department of Energy—Office of Biomass Programs under award number DE-FC36-05GO85041. Technical assistance in the field and/or lab is acknowledged from Kurt Dagel, Chris Nelson, Ann Qualm, Gary Amundson, Nancy Barbour, Chad Rollofson, Stephan Swanson, Susan Siragusa, David Walla, Tyler Goeschel, Molly Hoffbauer, and Carla Ahlschwede.
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