Corn stover harvest N and energy budgets in central Iowa

R. W. Malone, S. Herbstritt, L. Ma, T. L. Richard, R. Cibin, P. W. Gassman, H. H. Zhang, D. L. Karlen, J. L. Hatfield, J. F. Obrycki, M. J. Helmers, D. B. Jaynes, T. C. Kaspar, T. B. Parkin, Q. X. Fang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Harvesting corn stover removes N from the fields, but its effect on subsurface drainage and other N losses is uncertain. We used the Root Zone Water Quality Model (RZWQM) to examine N losses with 0 (NRR) or 50% (RR) corn residue removal within a corn and soybean rotation over a 10-yr period. In general, all simulations used the same pre-plant or post-emergence N fertilizer rate (200 kg ha −1 yr −1 ). Simulated annual corn yields averaged 10.7 Mg ha −1 for the post emergence applications (NRRpost and RRpost), and 9.5 and 9.4 Mg ha −1 yr −1 for NRRpre and RRpre. Average total N input during corn years was 19.3 kg N ha −1 greater for NRRpre compared to RRpre due to additional N in surface residues, but drainage N loss was only 1.1 kg N ha −1 yr −1 greater for NRRpre. Post-emergence N application with no residue removal (NRRpost) reduced average drainage N loss by 16.5 kg ha −1 yr −1 compared to pre-plant N fertilization (NRRpre). The farm-gate net energy ratio was greatest for RRpost and lowest for NRRpre (14.1 and 10.4 MJ output per MJ input) while greenhouse gas intensity was lowest for RRpost and highest for NRRpre (11.7 and 17.3 g CO 2 -eq. MJ −1 output). Similar to published studies, the simulations showed little difference in N 2 O emissions between scenarios, decreased microbial immobilization for RR compared to NRR, and small soil carbon changes over the 10-yr simulation. In contrast to several previous modeling studies, the crop yield and N lost to drain flow were nearly the same between NRR and RR without supplemental N applied to replace N removed with corn stover. These results are important to optimizing the energy and nitrogen budgets associated with corn stover harvest and for developing a sustainable bioenergy industry.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)776-792
Number of pages17
JournalScience of the Total Environment
StatePublished - May 1 2019

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Pollution


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