It’s evil corn yet again! There is growing interest in using the waste that’s left on the ground after a crop is harvested for the production of ethanol because it produces more energy than corn-based fuel. This would also help solve the food versus fuel debate, because less of the grain would be diverted to ethanol production, leaving more available as food for livestock (and for us).

Crop residues are low cost and readily available, since more than 50% of crop production is residues. However, they shouldn’t be considered simply waste, because they play a critical role in sustaining soil organic matter, when they are plowed under in order to renew the soil. Thus, extensive removal of crop residues for ethanol production may have a bad effect on the long-term productivity of the soil we need to sustain our food crops.

When soil was tested after straw was baled in several fields in Canada, researchers found that the soil in the fields where the straw had been completely removed contained much less nitrogen. Removing waste in order to create ethanol would therefore mean that farmers would have to use artificial fertilizers to enrich their fields. The runoff from these fertilizers is the main source of fish-killing red tide blooms in lakes and oceans.

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