Corn Stover Harvest, Tillage, and Cover Crop Effects on Soil Health Indicators

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Obrycki, John
Karlen, Douglas
Cambardella, Cynthia
Kovar, John
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Birrell, Stuart
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Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering

Since 1905, the Department of Agricultural Engineering, now the Department of Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering (ABE), has been a leader in providing engineering solutions to agricultural problems in the United States and the world. The department’s original mission was to mechanize agriculture. That mission has evolved to encompass a global view of the entire food production system–the wise management of natural resources in the production, processing, storage, handling, and use of food fiber and other biological products.

In 1905 Agricultural Engineering was recognized as a subdivision of the Department of Agronomy, and in 1907 it was recognized as a unique department. It was renamed the Department of Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering in 1990. The department merged with the Department of Industrial Education and Technology in 2004.

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  • Department of Agricultural Engineering (1907–1990)

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Monitoring soil health indicators (SHI) will help ensure that corn (Zea mays L.) stover harvest is sustainable. This study examines SHI changes after 5 yr of growing continuous corn with either chisel plow or no-tillage practices and harvesting 0, ∼35, or ∼60% of the stover. Two no-tillage treatments with a cereal rye (Secale cereale L.) cover crop and stover harvest rates of ∼35 or ∼60% were evaluated. All eight treatments were replicated four times in a randomized complete block design at an 11-ha site in Boone County, IA. Soil samples were collected following grain and stover harvest from 0- to 5- and 5- to 15-cm depth increments. Particulate organic matter C (POM-C) decreased when stover was removed or the soil was chisel plowed. No-till with 0% stover removal had 10 mg g–1 POM-C in the 0- to 5-cm soil layer, which was 1.9-fold higher than in other treatments. Potentially mineralizable N (PMN) was greater under cover crop treatments. Average PMN values were 56.9 and 45.5 µg g–1 PMN for no-till with cereal rye at 0- to 5- and 5- to 15-cm depths, respectively, compared with 17.5 and -3.7 µg g–1 PMN for the same no-till treatments without cereal rye. Other soil properties did not respond to increasing levels of stover removal. At this location and at the studied removal rates, 5 yr of harvesting corn stover did not decrease soil health, but POM-C data suggest that changes may be occurring. Long-term monitoring should continue to assess corn stover harvest sustainability.


This article is published as Obrycki, John F., Douglas L. Karlen, Cynthia A. Cambardella, John L. Kovar, and Stuart J. Birrell. "Corn Stover Harvest, Tillage, and Cover Crop Effects on Soil Health Indicators." Soil Science Society of America Journal 82, no. 4 (2018): 910-918. DOI: 10.2136/sssaj2017.12.0415.