Ethanol production could jeopardize soil productivity

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Source: ScienceDaily

There is growing interest in using crop residues as the feedstock of choice for the production of cellulosic-based ethanol because of the more favorable energy output relative to grain-based ethanol. This would also help provide a solution to the debate of food versus fuel, because less of the grain would be diverted to ethanol production, leaving more available for food and feed consumption.

Crop residues are viewed as a low cost and readily available source of material since more than 50% of crop production is residues. However, crop residues should not be considered simply a waste or benign material. They possess a critical role in sustaining soil organic matter. Consequently, extensive removal of crop residues for ethanol production—or for other industrial purposes—may impact the long-term productivity of soils.

Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada scientists at the Indian Head Research Farm in Indian Head and the Semiarid Prairie Agricultural Research Centre in Swift Current, all located in Saskatchewan (SK), measured the impact of straw removal after 50 years on soil organic carbon (SOC) and soil organic nitrogen (SON) using the Indian Head Long-Term Rotations established in 1958. These rotations included a series of fallow–spring wheat–spring wheat crop sequences where straw was removed through baling on selected plots. In this study, straw removal with baling occurred 2 years out of 3, or 66% of the time.

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