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Title: Preliminary observations of sugarcane trash degradation for repurposing as mulch

item Wright, Maureen

Submitted to: International Sugar Journal
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 4/1/2015
Publication Date: 6/1/2015
Citation: Wright, M.S. 2015. Preliminary observations of sugarcane trash degradation for repurposing as mulch. International Sugar Journal, June 2015. p. 434-439.

Interpretive Summary: Sugarcane growers increasingly harvest green (unburnt) cane resulting in more trash being delivered to processors, where it negatively affects both sugar quality and quantity. Some trash is left in the field, where it positively impacts the soil quality by recycling nutrients. However, too much trash left in the field can reduce future crop yield. A long-term solution may be conversion of trash to biofuels, a more immediate possibility is the conversion to mulch. The mulch could potentially be used to enrich the soil of the sugarcane fields, or other fields or gardens. This work reports the effect of added water, a compost starter and nitrogen on the conversion of sugarcane leaf trash to mulch.

Technical Abstract: A potential use for sugarcane trash is to convert it to mulch. This study was undertaken to evaluate whether a compost enhancer or nitrogen would accelerate degradation of leaf trash. Trash was obtained from a sugarcane grower, and was treated with water only, a commercial compost starter composed of bacterial and fungal cultures, and/or nitrogen at rates of 1 kg (Low) or 2 kg (High) / 10 m2. Treatments were monitored for 21 weeks. Height of the trash, temperature and visual changes were determined. The bins that received water only had the greatest reduction in height, 54.5%. None of the treatments resulted in a change in temperature, possibly due to the small mass of material in each bin. All of the watered bins had a greater observed change in consistency of the dry trash, with the low nitrogen treatment experiencing a change in color and texture in all replicates. Intact bales of trash were also observed over the 21 week period, with trash in the center of bales that were both watered and left dry undergoing visible changes in color and texture. While the dry bales did not receive added water, they likely held sufficient moisture from rainfall allowing for conversion of the leaves. The addition of water was necessary for conversion of trash in the bins, and enhanced by the addition of low nitrogen. Larger masses of trash would allow temperature maintenance to potentially accelerate conversion in future studies.