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Vinasse application and cessation of burning in sugarcane management can have positive impact on soil carbon stocks

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  • C.F. Zani
  • A.S. Barneze
  • A.D. Robertson
  • A.M. Keith
  • C.E.P. Cerri
  • N.P. McNamara
  • C.C. Cerri
Article numbere5398
<mark>Journal publication date</mark>7/08/2018
Issue number8
Number of pages30
Publication StatusPublished
<mark>Original language</mark>English


Bioenergy crops, such as sugarcane, have the potential to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions through fossil fuel substitution. However, increased sugarcane propagation and recent management changes have raised concerns that these practices may deplete soil carbon (C) stocks, thereby limiting the net greenhouse gas benefit. In this study, we use both a measured and modelled approach to evaluate the impacts of two common sugarcane management practices on soil C sequestration potential in Brazil. We explore how transitions from conventional (mineral fertiliser/burning) to improved (vinasse application/unburned) practices influence soil C stocks in total and in physically fractionated soil down to one metre. Results suggest that vinasse application leads to an accumulation of soil C of 0.55 Mg ha-1 yr-1 at 0-30 cm depth and applying unburned management led to gains of~0.7 Mg ha-1 yr-1 at 30-60 cm depth. Soil C concentration in the Silt+Clay fraction of topsoil (0-20 cm) showed higher C content in unburned management but it did not differ under vinasse application. The CENTURY model was used to simulate the consequences of management changes beyond the temporal extent of the measurements. Simulations indicated that vinasse was not the key factor driving increases in soil C stocks but its application may be the most readily available practice to prevent the soil C losses under burned management. Furthermore, cessation of burning may increase topsoil C by 40% after ~50 years. These are the first data comparing different sugarcane management transitions within a single area. Our findings indicate that both vinasse application and the cessation of burning can play an important role in reducing the time required for sugarcane ethanol production to reach a net C benefit (payback time). © 2018 Zani et al.