(NaturalNews) Three major agribusiness companies have announced plans to work together on studying whether unharvested corn residue could be used to produce animal feed or biofuels.
Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) Co., Deere & Co. and Monsanto Co. will conduct research into whether it can be economically viable to gather, store and transport the unused leaves, stalks and cobs of corn plants, known as "stover." This scrap is normally left on the ground after harvest to decompose naturally, replenishing the soil and preventing erosion. The companies hope to find ways to harvest and process stover into animal feed, ethanol, or other energy sources.
ADM is a major grain processor and ethanol manufacturer, Deere manufactures agricultural equipment, and Monsanto makes agricultural chemicals and sells seeds.
With oil prices rising, companies are racing to find profitable ways to produce other sources of fuel, such as ethanol. Given ever higher food prices, research is particularly keen for biofuel sources that will not compete with food production.
An experimental machine has already been developed that would enable the simultaneous harvesting of corn and stover, but the companies say that more research is needed into ways to store and transport the potential fuel stock. Another concern is the effect that stover harvesting might have on soil, the depletion of which is a major worldwide crisis.
A preliminary investigation into this question was recently conducted by researchers from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. In a study published in Agronomy Journal, the researchers measured the carbon levels in soils that were growing either corn, soybeans, or rotation of the two over the course of 14 years. They found that carbon levels did not decrease in any of the fields.
"These results suggest that a portion of corn stover could be harvested for biofuel production without reducing soil organic carbon levels in high yielding systems," the researchers said. "However, since this study did not study the direct impact of stover removal, that aspect remains to be evaluated."