Agricultural residues have near-term potential as a feedstock for bioenergy production, but their removal must be managed carefully to maintain soil health and productivity. Recent studies have shown that subfield scale variability in soil properties (e.g., slope, texture, and organic matter content) that affect grain yield significantly affect the amount of residue that can be sustainably removed from different areas within a single field. This modeling study examines the concept of variable-rate residue removal equipment that would be capable of on-the-fly residue removal rate adjustments ranging from 0 to 80%. Thirteen residue removal rates (0% and 25–80% in 5% increments) were simulated using a subfield scale integrated modeling framework that evaluates residue removal sustainability considering wind erosion, water erosion, and soil carbon constraints. Three Iowa fields with diverse soil, slope, and grain yield characteristics were examined and showed sustainable, variable-rate agricultural residue removal that averaged 2.35, 7.69, and 5.62 Mg ha−1, respectively. In contrast, the projected sustainable removal rates using rake and bale removal for the entire field averaged 0.0, 6.40, and 5.06 Mg ha−1, respectively. The modeling procedure also projected that variable-rate residue harvest would result in 100% of the land area in all three fields being managed in a sustainable manner, whereas Field 1 could not be sustainably managed using rake and bale removal, and only 83 and 62% of the land area in Fields 2 and 3 would be managed sustainably using a rake and bale operation for the entire field. In addition, it was found that residue removal adjustments of 40 to 65% are sufficient to collect 90% of the sustainably available agricultural residue.
Available at: http://works.bepress.com/david_muth/27/