From the Farm: Fertilizer from Stover


CENTRAL ILLINOIS (WCIA) — With explosive prices for fall and spring fertilizer–and even uncertain availability– farmers have one alternative they may overlook.

Half the weight of a corn crop is in the form of nutrients left in the field in the corn stover. University of Illinois Crop Researcher Connor Sible suggests a quick breakdown of that stover into nutrients for the 2022 crop.

“When we think about residue, we don’t always think about its value from a nutritional standpoint. And when you harvest a crop, you remove the grain from a field but the stover goes back,” Sible explains. “And when we think about nutrition, there is a lot of potassium in there…And a little bit of nitrogen too. And maybe there is a way to tap into this reservoir, we call nature’s fertilizer. And give some of that nutrition back for the following year’s crop.”

So how would they do that? “A couple different ways. In our research, we start with the combine. Stalk rollers. How are you sizing that residue as your combine goes through the field. You can have a stalk roller that helps break the residue up in smaller pieces. A little more surface area so those microbes can really dive into it and start to pull those nutrients out earlier. Or maybe we can do biologicals. We can spray microbes on the residue that helps break it down and minimize of that carbon penalty. And release some of the nutrition at the same time,” said Sible.

You have several things to consider before spending money on an application. “Definitely you have to think about the stover,” Sible advised. “Are we thinking corn, soybean stubble. Different types of residues. But how much yield do you have as well. Higher yields, more stover, more to manage. And so we have to adjust, then, how much residue, are we going to till it in and incorporate that residue or are we going to leave it as no-till option, and that may determine how you want to approach the management.”

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