Shared with Permission from Kevin L. Brown with the Bradford County Conservation District:
We are far from doing any official work on pipeline effects on crop yields. However, I have had several calls inviting us in to look at what has already happened on several farms. I think that you said there were some meetings coming up (in your area) to address pipelines going through and what, if anything, you could do to keep the ground intact. Even though I have nothing official, I can give you some anecdotal observations from what I have seen so far, and what people have told me on the phone.
First and foremost, do NOT plant corn, at least not if you expect to get anywhere near a “normal” crop. I cannot tell you yet that supplying more/enough nitrogen will completely take care of the issue. It appears that it may, but I will not know until after I get the chance to experiment with it next year. I just have a hunch that (based on what I am seeing out of other crops) it may just be a nitrogen deficiency. If so, that is easily fixed. If not, maybe not so much.
Secondly, it appears that clover (of any form) will grow as well, or better, than it ever would have in those particular areas. Don’t ask me why (at least not yet). Grasses and other legumes may do just as well, I just haven’t seen them yet. I have a pipeline across a small piece of my land. It was forest before, and now it is a “food plot” of white clover. Now forest should be great ground to start with (infiltration, organic matter, root channels, worms, etc.) but should have some major limitations as far as agricultural crops go. The pH should be really low, the nutrients should not be all that high, etc. And yet it has the nicest stand of clover you ever want to see. My home farm has an area on a side hill that has the same set of circumstances. I was in an area yesterday where grass and birdsfoot trefoil was growing just fine. There were no apparent deficiencies at all.
Third, I had a guy call in to be involved in the study and he claimed that his experience with the gas company was “great”. Everything went really well and the end result was very good. When I got done questioning him, they had went through CREP ground on him. If you don’t know, CREP is set-aside acreage where we have planted (usually) trees in highly erodible or stream-side areas. This would again be “fallow” ground much like forest. And he had great results. I have not seen it yet, but I am sure there is no corn there. It would be just grasses and legumes.
In summary, and I only have anecdotal evidence to back it up, I would say at this point you either need to get paid up front for the yield loss you will suffer if planting corn or (better yet) plant easily established grasses and legumes. They will grow much better, they will re-establish the soil structure, bring back the soil microbes, and get the whole soil health thing back on track much faster. Then, you could go back to corn in a few years. This may mean that farmers will have strips of hay right through their cornfields. I understand that and I know it will be a pain to deal with. However, I am not sure there is an alternative. (maybe extra Nitrogen will work???) If there is, it may be 2 years before we know what that alternative is (since we will have to go through a couple of growing seasons to figure it out.