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Smart uSe of reSidueS - WWF

Smart uSe of reSidueS - WWF

Agricultural residues

Agricultural residues support biodiversity. © ISTOCKPHOTO / Andrey STenKIn

aSSeSSing the relevant factorS and limitS for the SuStainable uSe of agricultural reSidueS The sustainability advantages of advanced biofuels have led them to be viewed as a “cleaner and greener” option, but any energy source produced at large scale, or without sufficient care, can have environmental impacts. To date there has been little research into the potential environmental impacts of the use of residues as a feedstock. In particular, region-specific analysis of possible impacts and sustainable limits of extraction of residues of the field are lacking. A review of the existing potential studies about agriculture residues in Europe, carried out for this paper 7 shows that Europe has potential from agriculture residues, but it gives no clear guidance on the sustainable limit of extraction, as none of the reviewed studies have taken into account the full picture on sustainability. Studies examining the potential of residue removal accross the EU tend to assume what are generally considered to be conservative extraction rates. This chapter highlights possible impacts of each aspect of sustainability for consideration, on the basis of a literature review. Further research on these factors should allow the definition of sustainable extraction rates that are the most appropriate to local conditions. Biodiversity The removal of agricultural residues may have impacts on biodiversity because of changed habitat functions like shelter, fodder source or nesting places. For several animal species, cereal fields and straw can serve as feeding grounds, nesting area, observatory perches or places of refuges against predators. Research has estimated that 50% of all species in Europe depend on agricultural habitats and, consequently, the major pressure affecting farmland biodiversity today relates to changes to traditional farming practices within the agricultural landscape. For below-ground fauna, organic matter is the main resource and habitat for soil life. Reducing the input of fresh organic matter in the system (i.e. stubble) will impact not only on the organisms living on the soil surface but also organisms in deeper soil layers. Changes in the attributes or quantity of the organic matter getting in the soil may have cascading effect on the whole soil-associated food web. In this context the removal of agricultural residues such as straw for energy purposes is an additional step towards the intensification of agriculture. One has to keep in mind that a change in one condition can negatively affect farmland productivity and survival as well as soil life and soil health. 7 DBFZ, Öko-Institut e.V. 2011: Environmental impacts of the use of agricultural residues for advanced biofuel production, commissioned by WWF. unpublished Smart use of residues I page 7

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