Ethanol from corn stover is expected to play an important role in achieving the Energy Independence and Security Act 2007 target of 136.25 billion liters (36 billion gallons) of biofuel by 2022. The 2010 USDA biofuel strategic report estimates that 16.3 billion liters (4.3 billion gallons) of biofuel from crop residues such as corn stover and straw is possible. Corn stover is expected to provide the majority of the estimated biofuel from crop residues, especially from the Midwestern US Corn Belt. A major concern related to removing corn stover is potential negative hydrologic and water quality impacts. The overall goal of this study was to estimate the watershed scale environmental impacts of corn stover removal in an agricultural watershed in the Midwest US. Soil and Water Assessment Tool was used to simulate the impacts associated with three corn stover removal rates (38%, 52% and 70%). The stream flow, nitrate and mineral phosphorus loading were reduced, and sediment and organic nitrogen loading were increased at the watershed outlet with all three stover removal scenarios. The stream flow was reduced by 1.4%, 2.0% and 2.7% from the baseline scenario (no stover removed) at 38%, 52% and 70% stover removal rates, respectively. The sediment loading increased by 19.7%, 22.5% and 29.0%, organic nitrogen increased by 0.8%, 2.0% and 5.5%, mineral phosphorus decreased by 11.7%, 15.5% and 21.0%, and nitrate decreased by 2.0%, 3.2% and 5.3% from the baseline scenario at the watershed outlet with 38%, 52% and 70% stover removal rates, respectively. The model results also indicate that the watershed response to stover removal is sensitive to watershed characteristics and management inputs, such as, slope and amount of fertilizer applied.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Water Science and Technology