Page Banner

United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Research Project: ECOLOGICALLY-BASED SOIL MANAGEMENT FOR SUSTAINABLE AGRICULTURE AND RESOURCE CONSERVATION Title: Crop Residues: The Rest of the Story

Authors
item KARLEN, DOUGLAS
item Lal, Rattan -
item FOLLETT, RONALD
item Kimble, John -
item HATFIELD, JERRY
item Miranowski, John -
item CAMBARDELLA, CYNTHIA
item Manale, Andrew -
item Anex, Robert -
item Rice, Charles -

Submitted to: Journal of Environmental Science and Technology
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: May 20, 2009
Publication Date: July 15, 2009
Citation: Karlen, D.L., Lal, R., Follett, R.F., Kimble, J.M., Hatfield, J.L., Miranowski, J.M., Cambardella, C.A., Manale, A., Anex, R.P., Rice, C.W. 2009. Crop Residues: The Rest of the Story. Environmental Science and Technology. 43(21):8011-8015.

Interpretive Summary: Recently, the idea of collecting crop residues, transporting them out to sea, sinking them to the ocean floor, and burying them in ocean sediments was proposed as an effective and expeditious way to reduce atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations. This idea raised concerns among soil scientists and environmental policy experts who concluded the proposal did not credit crop residues for their crucial role in sustaining soil resources. A literature-based Viewpoint was developed with an overall goal of helping those who are not familiar with soil and crop management understand how complex the system is. This article will be useful for educators, scientists, and policy makers who are trying to solve multiple environmental problems associated with soil, water, and air quality.

Technical Abstract: A recent scientific publication stated that to remove CO2 from the atmosphere, the most permanent and rapid solution would be to sink crop residues to the ocean floor where they would be buried in deep ocean sediments. However, mitigating rising atmospheric CO2 concentrations by removing crop residues from the land, transporting them to the coast, shipping them out to sea, and burying them in the ocean could be short-sighted, with many unintended consequences. Our objectives are to alert readers to the ecosystem services that crop residues provide, to point out some errors and misinterpretations of soil science literature in the review process, and to offer an alternative approach for addressing multiple environmental problems including carbon sequestration, atmospheric CO2 concentrations, productivity, water quality, bioenergy, wildlife habitat, and community development. We conclude that although ocean sequestration may have a role in mitigating atmospheric CO2 concentrations, we should not destroy the future productivity of our soils by drowning crop residues. We also conclude that it is now more important than ever to recognize crop residues as "agricultural co-products" that must be carefully managed, not only to sustain soil and water resources but also to improve the environment in ways that are both known and unknown.

Last Modified: 9/29/2014