It is estimated that ethanol production will consume about 30% of the US corn crop by 2010. This phenomenon is encouraging favorable grain prices and dramatically increasing corn acreage. Recent USDA data show that corn production rose nearly 20% last year from 78 million acres in 2006 to nearly 94 million acres in 2007. While farmers are expected to plant slightly less corn in 2008, in favor of wheat and soybean, it is anticipated that corn acreage could return to a level above 90 million acres in 2009. A consequence of long-term continuous corn production could be the adoption of more aggressive tillage to manage large amounts of crop residue. This could potentially lead to decreased soil quality and increased soil loss. Research has shown that aggressive tillage systems such as moldboard and chisel plowing reduce aggregate stability. Coupled with the lower surface crop residue resulting from tillage the affected soils are prone to more erosion than no-till or other low disturbance systems. Soil quality degradation and increased soil erosion would be a poor trade-off for fuel independence. Therefore, producers must carefully consider tillage options when growing corn on corn. Additionally nutrient management considerations within a continuous corn production may require some adjustment based upon tillage intensity and the need to incorporate manure or other amendments.
Soil Science Extension
University of Wisconsin Madison