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Fluid Journal : Fluid Journal 1999-2001
1 Fluid Journal Summer 1999 We mustst wonder if the farmer realized how precious that corn residue was before he baled it. Or does the farmer who burns his residue know what he is destroying when he burns his field? Why is this residue so precious? The answer is simple. What may appear to be little more than waste contains 45 percent carbon. Carbon comes in many forms, but the carbon in corn residue is in the form of an organic compound---mostly cellulose, maybe even some starches and sugars. This carbon is not like the carbon found on your cooking grille or the coal used to power plants or the graphite in a pencil. No, these forms of carbon are lifeless---only soluble in molten iron. They are useful only to burn, forming carbon dioxide gas. The carbon in corn or other crop residue is life giving. It's not like the carbon in baking soda or limestone or water softeners (these are carbonates). Most certainly the carbon in residue is not like carbon dioxide, which is truly a waste product produced from burning wood, coal, oil, etc. The carbon from residue is special. Maybe not like the pure carbon of a diamond, but special. Chemists, brilliant as they are, never have been able economically to synthesize cellulose, starches, or sugars (carbohydrates) from carbon dioxide, carbonates, or pure carbon. We know these carbohydrates are necessary for the existence of livestock, birds, and humans. They provide the energy that triggers the tens of thousands of chemical reactions that take place in our bodies. When a farmer plants a seed in the soil he is counting on the miracle of nature called photosynthesis to produce carbohydrates out of the carbon dioxide in the air. The necessary ingredients are sunlight, water, carbon dioxide, plant nutrients, and, of course, the green leaf, which is nature's processing mechanism. In the end, thousands of tons of carbohydrates are harvested in the fall. But the big kicker is the environmental benefit. One 9 billion bushel U.S. corn crop, for example, will FFF Review Don't Bale or Burn. Build! Residue you burn will be lost as the valuable building block for enriching soil or- ganic matter, which can double your productivity. absorb about 800 million tons of carbon dioxide, and produce by photosynthesis about 500 million tons of cellulose, starches, and sugars! The perfect food We feed grains such as corn, wheat and other crops to animals and people. But it doesn't end there. For every pound of corn grain, for example, there is also left about 1.5 pounds of stalks, leaves, and roots or what we call residue. This residue is a perfect food for micro-organisms teeming in the soil because it is in the combined form. When certain nutrients (such as nitrogen, phosphorus, and sulfur) are added to the residue, these micro-organisms reduce this residue to stable organic matter. Biological processes also add life to the soil. There is significant change in water-holding capacity, tilth, aeration, and water infiltration rate. In addition, the soil contains a host of nutrients that can feed the corn crop. Did you know a teaspoon of soil contains more microbes than there are people in the world?! So the question remains: does the farmer know the value lost when he bales or burns his residue? Does he understand he can use residue to build organic matter? That he can double his soil productivity and thus double his yields in 10 or 15 years? Does he understand that when he removes residue from his field his soil Table 1. Composition of organic matter, Stevenson, Iowa, 1982. Carbon (C) 58.0% Nitrogen (N) 5.3% Phosphorus (P2O5) 1.7% Sulfur (S) 0.7% Table 2. Building organic matter with residue. % O.M. Nutrients required increase Yield Tops Roots Total N P2O5 S per yr bu/A tons/A tons/A tons/A lbs/A lbs/A lbs/A 0-6" 200 4.7 2.4 7.1 114 36 16 .18
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