Crop residue harvest for bioenergy production and its implications on soil functioning and plant growth: A review

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Abstract

The use of crop residues as a bioenergy feedstock is considered a potential strategy to mitigate greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. However, indiscriminate harvesting of crop residues can induce deleterious effects on soil functioning, plant growth and other ecosystem services. Here, we have summarized the information available in the literature to identify and discuss the main trade-offs and synergisms involved in crop residue management for bioenergy production. The data consistently showed that crop residue harvest and the consequent lower input of organic matter into the soil led to C storage depletions over time, reducing cycling, supply and availability of soil nutrients, directly affecting the soil biota. Although the biota regulates key functions in the soil, crop residue can also cause proliferation of some important agricultural pests. In addition, crop residues act as physical barriers that protect the soil against raindrop impact and temperature variations. Therefore, intensive crop residue harvest can cause soil structure degradation, leading to soil compaction and increased risks of erosion. With regard to GHG emissions, there is no consensus about the potential impact of management of crop residue harvest. In general, residue harvest decreases CO2 and N2O emissions from the decomposition process, but it has no significant effect on CH4 emissions. Plant growth responses to soil and microclimate changes due to crop residue harvest are site and crop specific. Adoption of the best management practices can mitigate the adverse impacts of crop residue harvest. Long-term experiments within strategic production regions are essential to understand and monitor the impact of integrated agricultural systems and propose customized solutions for sustainable crop residue management in each region or landscape. Furthermore, private and public investments/cooperations are necessary for a better understanding of the potential environmental, economic and social implications of crop residue use for bioenergy production.

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Cherubin, M. R., Oliveira, D. M. D. S., Feigl, B. J., Pimentel, L. G., Lisboa, I. P., Gmach, M. R., … Cerri, C. C. (2018). Crop residue harvest for bioenergy production and its implications on soil functioning and plant growth: A review. Scientia Agricola, 75(3), 255–272. https://doi.org/10.1590/1678-992x-2016-0459

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