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Effect of sugarcane harvesting systems on soil carbon stocks in Brazil: an examination of existing data


M. V. Galdos. E-mail:


Agricultural management practices that promote net carbon (C) accumulation in the soil have been considered as an important potential mitigation option to combat global warming. The change in the sugarcane harvesting system, to one which incorporates C into the soil from crop residues, is the focus of this work. The main objective was to assess and discuss the changes in soil organic C stocks caused by the conversion of burnt to unburnt sugarcane harvesting systems in Brazil, when considering the main soils and climates associated with this crop. For this purpose, a dataset was obtained from a literature review of soils under sugarcane in Brazil. Although not necessarily from experimental studies, only paired comparisons were examined, and for each site the dominant soil type, topography and climate were similar. The results show a mean annual C accumulation rate of 1.5 Mg ha−1 year−1 for the surface to 30-cm depth (0.73 and 2.04 Mg ha−1 year−1 for sandy and clay soils, respectively) caused by the conversion from a burnt to an unburnt sugarcane harvesting system. The findings suggest that soil should be included in future studies related to life cycle assessment and C footprint of Brazilian sugarcane ethanol.