The Problem of Field Stubble




Lest you think “field stubble” is what happens when farmers use old razor blades, rest assured it’s not only a bona fide term used in agriculture—it has its own Wikipedia page. Well, not a page so much as a redirect to “crop residue.”

Crop residue is the stuff left behind after the crops have been collected and stashed away in silos or shipped off to the mill. And while we tend to think of harvest as the end of the growing cycle, this “stover” still must be cleared before the next season to make way for spring planting.

Corn stover

Corn stover in foreground, while stalks in the background wait for harvesting. Image by Royalbroil

That’s presents a challenge, especially in areas that traditionally aren’t equipped with a lot of sophisticated or heavy-duty farm equipment. Imagine having to rip out your lawn once or twice a year. You might let animals graze the chafe or try to plow it under, but more often, producers simply burn it off.

Incinerating the material is quick, easy, and cheap. And it’s certainly more economical than paying manual labor to clear the land.

Stubble burning

Of course, there’s a down side. A big one. Stubble burning has become a huge source of smog all over the world. (So big, stubble burning also has its own Wikipedia page—no redirects.)

“When the wheat harvest on the North China Plain comes to an end, farmers pull lighters from their pockets and set fire to mounds of leftover stalks,” writes Ryan McMorrow, in this 2014 article about record air pollution in China. “Smoke plumes from millions of acres of burning farmland billow toward the cities of central China.”

In India, smoke from burning residue has become so bad that the practice is now illegal. “The smoke often rises and swarms over Delhi, especially in winters, when the capital is most vulnerable to toxic smog,” according to a 2014 article in The Wall Street Journal.

But outright bans introduce yet other problems.  “Nobody wants to take action against the farmers. They are poor people, so the best way is to educate them,” said a representative of the Punjab Pollution control board, in the Wall Street Journal article.

Farmers burning rice residue

Burning of rice residues after harvest, to quickly prepare the land for wheat planting, around SangrurPunjab, India. Image by CIAT

 

While education may be vital, producers still need a way to prepare the soil. So some states have also begun subsidizing farm equipment that can do the work for the farmers without compromising air quality. That’s where Tirth Agro comes in.

Clearing fields cleanly in India

Tirth Agro Technology Pvt. Ltd., a leading Indian agricultural implements manufacturer company known for its Shaktiman equipment, has designed an alternative that doesn’t involve back-breaking labor or fire.

It’s a simple mobile shredder that cuts and shreds crop stalks as it’s pulled along beside a 40-hp tractor. Depending on how you set it up, it can directly blow the waste into the field as mulch, or shoot it into a truck for transporting.

mobile shredder model

Good design is understandable

The system is fairly basic: a feeding component cuts the stalks and runs them through rollers and a shredding component chops the material. Keeping it simple is essential for farm equipment, so that it’s easier to operate and service. See it close up here:

The result is that fields can be cleared for one-quarter the costs compared to using manual labor. And if you collect the material, you can sell it for biofuels, paper pulp, or even particle board to create more value to the crop.

For years, Tirth Agro has developed money-saving farm equipment like the mobile shredder using Creo. The CAD design software helps the company keep product development efficient. “Using Creo Parametric we greatly reduced design time,” says the company’s head of information & technology. “We also improved design quality and reduced errors and re-work.”

And when design time is down and quality is up, the company, the customer, and the environment all win.

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