Wheat and sorghum residue removal for expanded uses increases sediment and nutrient loss in runoff

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Received for publication January 16, 2009. Crop residue removal for expanded uses such as feedstocks for cellulosic ethanol production may increase loss of sediment and nutrients in runoff. We assessed on-farm impacts of variable rates of residue removal from no-till winter wheat (Triticum aestivum L.) and plow till grain sorghum [Sorghum bicolor (L.) Moench] on sediment, soil organic carbon (SOC) and nutrient losses in runoff in western Kansas. Five treatments with three replications consisting of removing residues at 0, 25, 50, 75, and 100% after harvest under two tillage levels for wheat (no-till and freshly tilled) and grain sorghum (spring tilled and freshly tilled) were established on 1 x 2 m plots. Simulated rainfall was applied at 115 ± 3 mm h–1 for 30 min. Compared with plots without residue removal, complete removal increased runoff by 61% in freshly tilled wheat plots, 225% in spring-tilled sorghum plots, and 94% in freshly tilled sorghum plots. Residue removal at rates as low as 50% increased loss of sediment. Complete removal doubled the sediment loss to 14 Mg ha–1 in tilled wheat, whereas it increased sediment loss from 0.9 to 7.2 Mg ha–1 in no-till wheat. No-till with 100% residue removal lost as much sediment as freshly tilled wheat plots with 0 or 25% removal. Residue removal at 75 and 100% increased losses of total N, total P, and SOC associated with sediment. Overall, excessive residue removal led to large losses of sediment, sediment-bound SOC, and nutrients in runoff. Furthermore, erosion protection provided by no-till management is lost when residue removal exceeds 25%.

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