Corn is a filling and versatile food that is an agricultural staple in the United States. Corn is not only tasty and healthy, but it has also been used to create a variety of products--including oils and even fuel. The remaining corn stalks after harvest can be beneficial in a variety of ways, from increasing soil nutrients to jet fuel production.
One of the best ways to use discarded corn stalks is to mix them directly into the soil after harvesting. According to extension.org, a corn crop can add beneficial nutrients to soil. "Corn stalks typically have a high amount of leaf matter and this will help in the development of organic matter within your soil," according to extension.org. But, the website warns, "leaving them standing could actually be a detriment, as standing stalks may continue to deplete the soil of nutrients," so it is important to mow the stalks down to about 2 to 3 inches above the soil line. If possible, till the stalks and stubble into the soil for maximum breakdown of the organic matter. Make sure that the corn stalks you incorporate are healthy in appearance, though, because corn can carry diseases that you don't want to incorporate into your soil, according to the University of Illinois Crop Sciences department.
Corn stalks are also popular for fall- or harvest-themed decor. They look especially festive when paired with chrysanthemums, pumpkins, gourds, hay bales and scare crows. Gather 10 to 12 healthy corn stalks, each about 8 to 10 feet tall, and tie them together with a piece of baling twine. For best results, try to fan them out on the top and bottom. Choose stalks with ears of corn on them and feed the birds while enhancing the beauty of your home. After tying the stalks together, simply peel back the outer layers of the corn to expose the corn kernels and the birds will come and pick them clean.
Corn is at the center of research in the development of renewable, green transportation fuels. Scientists at the University of Wisconsin-Madison have been working "toward making jet fuel from biomass feedstock such as corn stalks or switchgrass," according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Particularly, their work involves converting the degrading glucose from the corn into gamma-valerolactone, or GVL. "A chemical conversion process then converts that into jet fuel and carbon dioxide," according to James Dumesic, professor of chemical and biological engineering at UW-Madison. Dumesic elaborates, however, that they are facing a hurdle with the high cost of producing GVL, but that once GVL is made effectively, "this is an excellent way to convert corn stalks to jet fuel."