Project: BE Basic II - Towards a quick decision SUPPORT tool for SUstainable use of harvest RESidues (SURE/SUPPORT)

The continued growth of the world population requires increased amounts of agricultural products, including
food and non-food products and energy. The potential problem of competition of land use between food- and
energy-producing crops has been partially met by using non-food parts of food products as sources of energy
or by growing energy crops on low-quality soils.

Ultimately, high removal of organic matter from soils for energy production will result in decreasing levels of soil organic matter. Decreasing levels of organic matter in soil is risky, since organic matter comprises the basis of soil quality forming a stock of nutrients, which becomes available to the crop when soil organisms decompose the organic matter. This activity of soil organisms also brings about natural suppression of soilborne pathogens. Furthermore, organic matter functions as a ‘gluing’ component to stick mineral soil parts together, which prevents loss of soil by runoff or dust storms and organic matter facilitates root penetration of the soil and it acts as a buffer for water storage. Thus, soils with high organic matter removal typical for biomass production need careful management, primarily by maintaining and replenishing the pools of organic matter. Currently in biomass production large amounts of residues are available which are not optimally used. Therefore, we suggest constructing a decision tool to support the sustainable use of residues. In this support tool residue quality, soil requirement, and the risks, costs and revenues involved in the primary production of biomass are used as input parameters. The tool will include the results of research done within this project in which fast and for farmers financially affordable techniques will be developed to characterize the soil’s needs and quality of the residues (e.g. nutrition supply and potential presence of toxics). These techniques are used to predict effects of residues on the soil food web, greenhouse gas emission potential, disease suppression, organic matter quality and nutrient supply to the crop after application of residues to soil.  Summarizing, the tool will contribute to sustainable biomass production.