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Wet weather challenges stalk baling


Soil moisture and rainfall may affect quality and field conditions when baling cornstalks.

Mud is not a friend when you are baling cornstalks.

With that in mind, farmers who are working with operators of cellulosic ethanol production facilities may have a few extra challenges this fall.

“The soil conditions are going to play a big factor,” says Mahdi Al-Kaisi, an agronomist and soil specialist at Iowa State University.

In many parts of Iowa and the Midwest, this has been a wet fall. That means farmers are already looking at issues such as soil compaction and wheel ruts in fields. Erosion becomes a bigger factor. Some corn stalks and stubble may deteriorate faster than if it had been a dry fall.

But the biggest factor for the cellulosic industry could be mud.

“If you are worried about the quality of the residue, you don’t want additional contact with the soil,” Al-Kaisi says.

When mud gets into baled cornstalks, that can create some issues for companies hoping to use that residue for industrial purposes because they must  either remove the soil residue or decide not to use those bales at all.

If stalks are baled wet and stored wet, that certainly could also contribute to quality issues, Al-Kaisi says.

In both cases (soil contact and wet storage), the issue of quality becomes important.

For the farmer, Al-Kaisi says, the additional issue is in regards to whether to remove corn stover and how much to remove. If the conditions are wet, the farmer may want to leave more stover on the field. He or she may also not want to make an extra trip across a muddy field to bale the stover because of possible compaction issues or fear of leaving ruts in the field.

Of course, not all areas have been wet this fall and there are likely to be fields where none of these factors are worrisome to the farmer. But Al-Kaisi says  farmers always need to keep soil quality and erosion and groundcover in mind when baling cornstalks.

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