Utilizing corn residue for bioenergy: Agronomic and environmental consequences

Agriculture and Natural Resources Extension
Iowa State University

Extension Lead(s)
(name, position, counties served, contact information)

Mahdi Al-Kaisi, Associate Professor, Department of Agronomy
2104 Agronomy Hall, Ames IA 50011
Email: malkaisi@iastate.edu
Office Phone: 515-294-8304

Your Position


POW # and Team

 ­­­­­__x___100 Corn and Soybean Production and Protection
­­­­­_____ 110 Dairy
­­­­­_____ 120 Farm and Business Management
­­­­­_____ 130 Horticulture: Commercial and Consumer
­­­­­_____ 140 Iowa Beef Center
­­­­­_____ 150 Iowa Pork Industry Center
­­­­­___x__ 160 Natural Resources and Stewardship

ANR Priority (select all that apply)

­­­­­_____Global Food Security and Hunger
­­­­­_____Regional Food Systems
­­­­­___x__Natural Resources & Environmental Stewardship
­­­­­_____Food Safety
­­­­­_____Sustainable Energy – Biofuels & Biobased Products
­­­­­___x__Climate Change

Title of Success Story

Utilizing corn residue for  bioenergy: Agronomic and environmental consequences

Continuing Story

__x___ No                _____  Yes (If continuing, what story?)

Knowledge Areas: (USDA categories)


Desired Changes





The effect of corn residue removal on soil quality and greenhouse gas emission.

Two field studies established in 2009 to present to examine the effects of several residue removal on soil productivity and soil quality.

No information is available to address production and environmental concerns of residue removal applicable to Iowa agriculture.  Potential soil erosion, soil quality deterioration, and associated water quality concerns due to extensive crop residue removal.

(Why is it important to address this issue with education?  What are the desired changes?)


Society is facing increased need for alternative energy sources, including focus on use of plant biomass. In addition, there is an increasing demand by the livestock production systems for the use of corn stover in feeding and bedding needs. At the same time, society is demanding solutions to issues such as increasing levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and water quality impairment due to sediment and nutrient enrichment.  In addition, producers are uncertain about these issues related to production systems and required practices to successfully and economically implement for using crop biomass as a viable production commodity, as well as protect soil resources.

(Outputs: activities, numbers reached, publications, products)


Annual field days, training workshops, and other educational events were organized in September of 2010 for agricultural professionals and farmers at the Iowa State University Armstrong Research and Demonstration Farm (Southwest Iowa). Training sessions, PowerPoint presentations, and educational materials were presented during these events. In addition to field days, initial findings of this research were shared with other colleagues and agricultural professionals through newsletter articles, presentation at the regional committee meeting, and presentation to extension educators and other agricultural professionals during various events such as the Integrated Crop Management (ICM) conference in Iowa. The ICM conference is organized annually and approximately 1,000 agricultural professionals attended the conference.

RESULTS (Outcomes:  specific changes that occurred in Learning, Actions, Conditions; how outcomes were measured)


This project will assess impacts of various crop biomass harvest levels on processes related to soil organic carbon (C) and nitrogen (N), crop nutrient removal including phosphorus (P), potassium (K), and greenhouse gas emissions. Important project outcomes will include different crop biomass harvest levels effects on the; (1) amount of C and nutrients removed and returned to the soil, (2) soil physical properties such as bulk density and water infiltration, (3) soil C sequestration potential, (4) soil CO2, N2O, and CH4 gas emissions, (5) residue decomposition in the field and nutrient release to soil, and (6) changes in N, P, and K use and fertilization requirements. This research is in its second year and will continue for another two years to provide critical information that is not available or is deficient at this time. Preliminary findings for 2009 to 2010 include: no differences in corn yield between tillage systems and crop residue removal rates. Application of N fertilization greater than 150 lbs/ac did not significantly increase corn stover or root biomass. Also, removing 50% or greater of corn crop residue may lead to decrease in soil carbon under chisel plow and no-till as well, even if additional N fertilization is applied. It is also observed that no-till can potentially sequester more carbon than chisel plow, primarily due to colder soil temperatures and less soil disturbance, where low annual CO2 emissions were observed under no-till. The results of this study will benefit researchers, nutrient management and soil conservation planners, producers, agriculture industry, and government agencies responsible for establishing nutrient management, soil conservation, or environmental regulations.

Public Value (now or future)
(Impact:  Who benefits beyond participants and how?  What conditions changed?)


A diverse and well-established research-based effort could integrate concerns and questions related to residue removal, and provide needed information to successfully utilize biomass production for energy and livestock uses in Iowa.  This information can help in the decision making process by industry, producers, and policy makers on the best management practices of utilizing corn residue for energy use or other uses while maintaining or protecting soil and water quality.

Major Partners or Collaborators

Two faculty from the Agronomy department are collaborating with the principle investigator on this project.

Where story took place
(Region, campus, multi-regional)


This project is conducted on two Iowa State University Research and Demonstration Farms at the Agronomy Research Farm and Armstrong Research and Demonstration Farm.

Fiscal Year


Multi-state or Integrated (Ext + Research)


Integrated research and Extension project.

Funding Source

This research is supported through fund from the Agronomy Department Endowment.


Residue removal, soil quality, soil carbon, greenhouse gas

Page last updated: November 28, 2011
Page maintained by Julie Honeick, jhoneick@iastate.edu