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Crop Residue Worth More Than Grain?
If work funded by the U.S. Dept. of Energy pays off, farmers may find that corn stalks and other crop residue are worth more than the grain itself because Iowa State University researchers are working to find a way to gather crop residue for less than $30 per ton.
"We have used five systems, all single pass, to collect the grain and crop residue at the same time," says Graeme Quick, consulting agricultural engineer and former project leader at ISU.
One of the most eye-catching ideas is a Deere 9750 with a giant 8-ft. diameter reel on a 2-tier cornhead that collects ears in one stream and stalks in another.
Other residue-gathering machines include a Deere 6-row corn head on an IH 1460 combine pulling a modified Hesston stackhand and a Deere 6-row bean head that harvests the whole corn plant at up to 6 mph, with a chopper and wagon pulling behind to collect the plant material.
"This year, we are concentrating on a Claas head on a New Holland bi-directional tractor. It will collect all the material including the grain off the cob as stover," says Stuart Birrell, who's also working on the research effort. "We are also looking at putting a chopper on the rear end of a Deere combine."
ISU is working with a Cargill/Dow joint venture that is making biodegradable plastics.
"Cargill/Dow is looking for stalks, but not leaves," says Birrell. "Other researchers want different components. The end use will dictate the type of material needed."
A major issue is transport and storage. To be successful, a system must get the density of material high enough that it can be transported economically. While collection is the focus of the current project, other researchers at ISU are evaluating breeding corn for lignin and cellulose metabolism and how genetic material will affect downstream processes.
"A big question we are looking at is the affect of residue removal on long term productivity of the soil," says Birrell. "If we do this, are we mining our soil?"
Contact: FARM SHOW Followup, Stuart Birrell, Iowa State University, Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering Dept., 200 Davidson Hall, Ames, Iowa 50011 (ph 515 294-1320)

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2004 - Volume #28, Issue #5