Crop Residues, their Types, Management and Uses

Crop residues are the materials left over after a crop harvest.

They may be present in the form of leaves, stalks, stems, seeds, etc.

The amount of crop residue depends on the type of the crop, growth of the crop, method of tillage and its method of harvesting.

Cereal crops produce large quantities of residues.

crop residues

Crop residues are extremely helpful in adding soil organic matter.

They are generally used as feed, fodder, fiber and construction material.

They increase the soil’s water infiltration and retention capacity, buffers the pH, and facilitates the availability of nutrients in the soil.

Types of crop residues

Crop residues are categorized into

  1. Field residues
  2. Post-harvest residues

Field residues

The residues which are left in the field after the main crop is harvested are called field residues. When left in the field, these residues increase water holding capacity, control erosion, and add nutrients. They can be tilled back into the same soil.

Ex- stem, leaves, stalks, etc.

Post-harvest residues

Post-harvest residues are the materials left after processing. These residues are used as animal feed and soil amendments. Ex- husk, seeds, molasses, bagasse, etc.

Advantages of crop residues

  • Sustain soil organic matter
  • Increase crop yield
  • Control soil erosion
  • Reduce surface runoff and evaporation
  • Recycle plant nutrients
  • Increase soil infiltration rate
  • Decrease sedimentation

Disadvantages of crop residues

  • Higher costs for removing residues
  • Difficulty in land preparation for the succeeding crop
  • Cause pollution if used as household fuel

Burning of crop residues

Climate change has become a significant threat in the present times.

Melting of glaciers, forest fires, pollution is becoming the current concern. Burning of crop residues or stubble burning is one of the innumerable causes.

Crop residues after harvesting are burnt in the agricultural field. The smoke generated by this affects the air quality extensively and has become a major issue in many countries.

The non-availability of labor and high costs for removing residues are the major reasons behind burning them.

 Farmers justify their actions by stating that crop residues are burnt to make their work easier as it helps to inhibit the pest and disease occurrence.

Though this is true to some extent, this won’t neutralize the impact it causes on the environment.

They can overcome the issues by using the machines for chopping straw and dispersing it evenly in the field.

Farmers can use and recycle the residues to various extents or sell them to industries to reduce their harmful effects on the environment.

This, in turn, helps them to generate additional revenue.

Crop Residue Management

Though crop residues provide huge environmental services, they are considered waste materials. They have to be recycled by acknowledging their importance as a natural resource.

Recycling of crop residues

Conventional farming methods have led to the decline in soil organic matter, increased soil erosion and surface and groundwater contamination.

Good crop residue management in agricultural lands has many positive impacts on soil quality.

Using crop residues in the field, either by leaving them directly in the open field or incorporating them with plowing or other field operations, is an age-old practice.

This provides several benefits to the soil by adding organic manure to it, decreasing soil erosion and weeds, increasing the activity of microorganisms in the soil and enhancing the water holding capacity.

The enhancement of organic matter in the soil through crop residues also improves the structure and quality of the soil.

  • Enhancing soil organic matter

Modern agriculture practices have resulted in the reduction of soil organic matter. The decline in water infiltration and plant residues has reduced microbial and invertebrate activities in soil.

Especially, we can see the decrease in earthworm population in the soil due to the absence of organic residues and burning these residues.

This will hinder the crop yield if not taken seriously and create an imbalance in soil nutrients.

Using the crop residues might help maintain a huge amount of organic matter in the soil, essentially where crop rotation is included and green manure or green leaf manure is incorporated for a short period.

Biological nitrogen fixation by leguminous crops and the recycling of fixed N when leguminous crop residues are returned to the soil is the best example of how residues can be beneficial for the soil to uphold nutrients.

Although crop residues contain both macro and micronutrients, only the macronutrients like nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium and sulfur are economically significant.

It is considered that 1 ton of straw contains 16 % of nitrogen, 5 % of Phosphorous and 35 % of potassium.

  • Protecting soils against soil erosion and improving water retention

Soil erosion is a major threat to agriculture as it removes nutrients in the soil abundantly.

Soil or wind erosion can be controlled through crop residues by reducing wind speed for soil particle movement and reducing soil surface runoff by increasing infiltration rate.

Reduced erosion and increased water holding capacity help to boost crop yields.

  • Soil Aeration

Crop residue cover improves soil aeration by promoting a free exchange of gases between the soil and the atmosphere. This is facilitated by increasing structural stability, porosity and soil drainage, further decreasing surface crusting.

  • Weed control

Crop residues can suppress weed growth by acting as a mulch in the soil. This layer restricts nitrogen availability and sunlight near the soil and inhibits the growth of weeds.

Other uses of crop residues

Since the beginning of civilization, crop residues have always been used in a plethora of ways. They are popularly used as household fuel, animal feed, and composting material in many developing and under-developed countries.

  1. As Household fuel

Crop residues are an important source of energy in some parts of Asia and Africa. Pruned leaves, dried stems and stubble are generally used as fuel for cooking and lighting. However, it is a cheap source of fuel and beneficial to low-income families, the smoke released while burning causes health hazards and pollution.

  1. For Mushroom cultivation

The straw is widely used in mushroom production. Rice and wheat straw are popularly used as a substrate in the production of button, oyster and paddy straw mushrooms. This can further be used for composting after harvesting mushrooms. Using inedible Phyto mass into edible mushrooms can add economic value and is densely nutritious.

  1. Biofuel production

In recent years, awareness among the people for using clean fuels is rising exponentially.

There is an increase in the usage of crop residues for energy generation and as a substitute for fossil fuels.

Some of the crops like sugarcane and sorghum are considered to be best for biofuel production due to their high carbohydrate content.

In comparison with other renewable energy sources like solar and wind, biofuels are easier in storage, inexpensive and environmentally friendly.

However, transportation of large volumes of straw and infrastructural development for biofuel production is costlier.

  1. Building materials

The conventional method of using cereal straw for roofing and using straw-clay mixture to make bricks and walls is still used in some areas for the construction of sheds and houses. Contrary to this, a modern approach of using a clean shredded straw can be seen popularly in many areas to make boards for interior partitioning. This shows the efficient repurposing of the residues.

  1. Feed and Bedding
  • As Animal feed

Crop residues are used as feed for domestic animals in most parts of the world. The animals graze directly in the harvested grain field or are given husk or other chopped residues with additives like pellets or other nitrogen-rich compounds.

Most of the crop residues are poor in nutrition and high in fiber content. Lignin present in residues makes them difficult for digestion. So feeding these residues untreated could impede digestibility in the animals, further affecting their performance.

Here is the list of the residues from different crops used as animal feed

Sl. NoCropResidue used as feed
1Rice, wheat, barley, sorghum, millets,Straw
2Maize, rice, wheatBarn
3Maizecobs and Stover
4SugarcaneBagasse, molasses
5PulsesHay
6 Sunflower, olive, linseed, mustard
 
Cakes
  • Bedding-

The high water absorption property of cereal straw serves as an excellent material for animal bedding. Using straw further for keeping animals clean makes it easier to manage manure and limit the leaching of nutrients. This can be later used as organic waste for plants.

Composting

Straw from crops, especially paddy and wheat, is used in compost preparation along with cow dung and kitchen waste. This compost serves as organic manure to the soil.

Crop residues should be treated as a valuable resource to enhance productivity and improve soil quality and sustainability.

Agricultural crop residues and their proper management can also play an important role in helping society cope with increased greenhouse gas emissions from the burning of fossil fuels.

It is seen that with intense modernization, there is a steep decline in the use of crop residues as a household fuel in bedding and composting.

This is due to the increasing use of biofuels, labor-intensive techniques used for composting, the use of advanced construction materials and a decrease in crafting. Few countries have also stopped using residues as feed for animals. For sustainability, residue recycling must be promoted.

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