Corn stover is the stalks, leaves and cobs left after the corn kernels are harvested in field corn. Traditionally, stover has been left in the field to reduce soil erosion and help increase soil organic matter. However, higher planting densities and increased yields have produced stover in amounts that exceed levels needed to maintain soil health in the most productive parts of the U.S. Corn Belt. Farmers have responded to this problem by increasing tillage to speed stover decay and reduce crop residue in their seedbeds.
Recently, scientists from Monsanto and Archer Daniels Midland (ADM), worked with the University of Nebraska, Lincoln (UNL ) and Iowa State University (ISU), government researchers and equipment manufacturers to take a new look at stover and identify how it can play an important new role in animal feeds.
Using a pre-treatment, a method similar to the one that is used to make tortillas, enables the sugars in stover to be better digested by beef cattle and dairy cows. This allows stover to displace whole corn in livestock feeding programs.
Using corn stover instead of more expensive grain improves the income potential for both the grain and livestock farmer. The cattlemen have a new alternative as they develop their feeding program—and the grain farmer has two crops produced on each corn acre.
Society also benefits. The U.S. government estimates that about 100 million dry tons of stover can be sustainably harvested each year. About 10 to 20 percent of this is enough to provide feed equal to one to two billion bushels of corn for U.S. beef and dairy herds. This is equivalent to a 10 percent increase in the U.S. corn supply and could also free up 20 million acres (8 million hectares) of hay ground for other uses.
By developing new uses for stover, the environment is protected, and the strain on each corn harvest is lessened because the corn that was once destined to be animal feed can now be used for other purposes.
This article is excerpted from Monsanto’s 2011 Corporate Social Responsibility and Sustainability Report. To see the full report, please visit Monsanto.com.