Ethanol production could jeopardize soil productivity

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Washington, June 3 (ANI): In a new research, scientists have suggested that using crop residues as a low cost and readily available source for ethanol production, may mean jeopardizing the long-term productivity of prairie soils.

Crop residues are viewed as a low cost and readily available source of material since more than 50 percent 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 percent of the time. The study was converted to no-till in 1991.

Another 4-year study was conducted to quantify how much wheat straw is actually removed through baling when different harvesting systems are used.

The three harvesting/straw removal systems involved (1) swathing-harvesting-baling, (2) straight harvesting-baling, and (3) harvesting with a stripper header-swathing-baling.

Results from these studies were published in the May-June 2009 issue of Agronomy Journal, "Quantifying Straw Removal through Baling and Measuring the Long-Term Impact on Soil Quality and Wheat Production," by G.P. Lafond and others.

According to Lafond, who was the study leader, "The results would support the recommendation that some straw could be removed from fields providing that the frequency of removal was less than 66 percent and that no more than 40 percent of the aboveground residues other than grain are removed." From a crop management perspective, proper nitrogen fertility combined with no-till would further reduce the possibility of net losses in SOC and SON," he said. (ANI)

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