The Field Narrows for Cover Crops in Biofuel
By Ann Perry
September 23, 2009
Agricultural Research Service (ARS)
scientist is looking for cover crop perennials that provide the best balance in
biofuel production between agronomic success and environmental sustainability.
This work is being supported by the Sun
Grant Initiative, a national network of land-grant universities and
federally funded laboratories working together to study, produce, and
commercialize renewable, biobased energy technologies.
Singer, who works at the
Soil Tilth Laboratory in Ames, Iowa, is conducting this research as part of
a three-component study of optimizing corn cultivation for biofuel production.
Hes evaluating perennial grass crops to assess their potential for
mitigating soil erosion and enhancing soil organic matter even in fields where
every bit of corn and stoverstalk, leaves and allis harvested
either for grain or cellulosic ethanol production.
Perennial groundcovers root systems may contribute enough carbon to
the soil to offset the loss of carbon when stover is removed. Cover crops also
provide habitat for beneficial insects, facilitate water infiltration, help
hold nitrogen in the soil, suppress weeds and reduce the runoff of agricultural
Results from Singers first season in the field indicated that white
clover or Kentucky bluegrass were promising cover crop candidates worthy of
additional study. On the other hand, creeping red fescue added notable amounts
of carbon to the soil, but was very competitive with corn.
When the optimum groundcover has been identified, using no-till and
strip-till cultivation practices in the corn-groundcover system will reduce the
amount of fossil fuel needed to prepare and plant the crops. This reduced
tillage, in turn, will decrease greenhouse gas emissions and require fewer
energy inputs than using conventional tillageanother prospective plus for
farmers and fields alike.
more about this research in the September 2009 issue of Agricultural
ARS is the principal intramural scientific research agency of the
U.S. Department of Agriculture.