Main content area

Unraveling Crop Residue Harvest Effects on Soil Organic Carbon

Karlen, Douglas L., Schmer, Marty R., Kaffka, Stephen, Clay, David E., Wang, Michael Q., Horwath, William R., Kendall, Alissa, Keller, Alan, Pieper, B. John, Unnasch, Stefan, Darlington, Tom, Vocasek, Fred, Chute, Alan G.
Agronomy journal 2019 v.111 no.1 pp. 93-98
agronomists, agronomy, biofuels, carbon sequestration, cellulosic materials, clean energy, climate change, corn, crop residue management, databases, ecosystem services, engineers, ethanol, ethanol production, experts, farmers, feedstocks, human resources, life cycle assessment, marketing, microbial communities, models, nongovernmental organizations, nutrients, scientists, society, soil, soil erosion, soil organic carbon, soil resources, stakeholders, stover, tillage
Crop residues protect soil resources, sustain soil organic carbon (SOC), cycle nutrients, support microbial communities, and provide bioenergy feedstock. Herein we (i) summarize the origin of the “Crop Residues for Advanced Biofuels: Effects on Soil Carbon” workshop; (ii) review the workshop structure; and (iii) present consensus points, unanswered questions, and outcomes of the workshop. Initiated by a farmer/ethanol investor’s letter to the American Society of Agronomy (ASA) President, an ASA Working Group (WG) was established to make a recommendation to the ASA Board on how to respond. The WG concluded a Tri-Society sponsored workshop involving farmers, ethanol production and marketing groups, agronomists, crop scientists, soil scientists, engineers, non-governmental organizations, life cycle analysis (LCA) experts, and regulatory personnel was needed to address the complex question that had been posed and to ensure all viewpoints were fully represented. The WG was expanded to an ASA Task Force who organized the workshop in Sacramento, CA. Eighty workshop attendees identified four consensus areas (crop residue management [CRM]; severity of soil erosion; tillage, CRM and erosion linkages; and the importance of simulation [LCA] models) and four unresolved themes (carbon sequestration, CRM effects on SOC stocks, changing climate effects, and the need to focus on ecosystem services rather than single endpoints). The workshop resulted in three direct outcomes: (i) development of a stakeholder funded SOC database, (ii) LCA and SOC model improvements, and (iii) development of this special section in Agronomy Journal. Dale and Ong (2014) concluded that large scale, renewable energy systems are no longer just a “good idea”; but essential, and during the next few decades society must develop systems capable of producing clean energy at the multi-terawatt scale. Crop residues such as corn (Zea mays L.) stover, and other cellulosic materials were identified as potential feedstocks to meet this demand and have been rigorously evaluated for the past decade (e.g., Perlack et al., 2005; U.S. Department of Energy, 2011 and 2016). However, it is also well established that crop residues have important ecosystem service and productivity functions (Larson, 1979; Johnson, 2018; Ibrahim et al., 2018).