Making biofuel from corn crop residue could become economically viable for farmers with government support and, therefore, lead to a major shift in crop rotation practices favoring more continuous corn plantings, according to a study by researchers at Purdue University.
The agricultural economists examined how the development of corn stover for cellulosic ethanol would affect corn and soybean markets and the traditional corn-soybean crop rotation in the United States.
If second-generation biofuels became economically viable and a massive amount of biofuels were produced from agricultural residue, this could have a major impact on the agricultural commodity markets.—Professor Wallace Tyner, co-author
Also on the team were lead author Farzad Taheripour, a research associate professor, and graduate student Julie Fiegel.
If technology and government support become economically viable, converting corn stover to biofuels would affect the profitability of corn production compared with other crops and also the crop rotation practices in the Midwest, the researchers said. There likely would be more continuous corn versus the traditional corn-and-soybean rotation. Also, corn and soybean production would expand to areas other than the historic Corn Belt.
The researchers concluded that the supply of stover-based fuel would be very limited at low levels of crude oil prices in particular when the government does not support production. But with a subsidy of $1.01 per gallon, the market would produce significant amounts of biofuel, especially at medium and higher crude prices.
The researchers projected that with a viable corn stover market and stover at a farm price of $85.40 a ton, a large majority of farmers would find it profitable to harvest stover.
If converting corn stover to biofuel becomes profitable, either because of market forces or government supports, then farmers would consider revenue from both stover and corn in making planting decisions, the researchers said. If the joint profits from corn and corn stover are higher than from soybean production, the researchers said farmers likely would grow more corn.
The study, “Development of Corn Stover Biofuel: Impacts on Corn and Soybean Markets and Crop Rotation,” was published by the Canadian Center of Science and Education.