Stubble burning

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Stubble burning in Essex, England in 1986

Stubble burning is the practice of intentionally setting fire to the straw stubble that remains after grains, such as rice and wheat, have been harvested. The technique is still widespread today.


This visualization shows fires detected in the United States from July 2002 through July 2011. Fires that reliably burn each year in western states and across the Southeast are likely to be deliberate.

The burning of stubble has both positive and negative consequences.

Generally helpful effects[edit]

  • Cheaper and easier than other removal methods
  • Helps to combat pests and weeds
  • Can reduce nitrogen tie-up[1]

Generally harmful effects[edit]

  • Loss of nutrients
  • Pollution from smoke.[2] Including greenhouse gases and others that damage the ozone layer
  • Damage to electrical and electronic equipment from floating threads of conductive waste
  • Risk of fires spreading out of control[3]

Alternative to stubble burning[edit]

Agriculture residues can have other uses, such as in particle board[4] and biofuel,[5] though these uses can still cause problems like erosion and nutrient loss.

Spraying an enzyme, which decomposes the stubble into useful fertiliser, improves the soil, avoids air pollution and prevents carbon dioxide emissions.[6]

Several companies worldwide use leftover agricultural waste to make new products. Agricultural waste can serve as raw materials for new applications, such as paper and board,[7] bio-based oils,[8] leather,[9] catering disposables,[10] fuel[11] and plastic.[12]

Attitudes toward stubble burning[edit]

  • Stubble burning has been effectively prohibited since 1993 in the United Kingdom.[13] A perceived increase in blackgrass, and particularly herbicide resistant blackgrass, has led to a campaign by some arable farmers for its return.[14]
  • In Australia stubble burning is "not the preferred option for the majority of farmers"[1] but is permitted and recommended in some circumstances. Farmers are advised to rake and burn windrows, and leave a fire break of 3 metres around any burn off.[3]
  • In the United States, fires are fairly common in mid-western states, but some states such as Oregon and Idaho regulate the practice.[15][16]
  • In the European Union, the Common Agricultural Policy strongly discourages stubble burning.[17]
  • In China, there is a government ban on stubble burning; however the practice remains fairly common.[18]
  • In northern India, despite a ban by the Punjab Pollution Control Board, stubble burning is still practiced since the 1980s. Authorities are starting to enforce this ban more proactively, and to research alternatives.[19][20][6]
  • Stubble burning is allowed by permit in some Canadian provinces, including Manitoba where 5% of farmers were estimated to do it in 2007.[21]


Burning of rice residues after harvest, to quickly prepare the land for wheat planting, around Sangrur, Punjab, India

Stubble burning in Punjab, Haryana, and Uttar Pradesh in north India has been cited as a major cause of air pollution in Delhi since 1980.[22] Consequently, the government is considering implementation of the 1,600 km long and 5 km wide Great Green Wall of Aravalli.[23] From April to May and October to November each year, farmers mainly in Punjab, Haryana, and Uttar Pradesh burn an estimated 35 million tons[24] of crop waste from their wheat and paddy fields after harvesting as a low-cost straw-disposal practice to reduce the turnaround time between harvesting and sowing for the first (summer) crop and the second (winter) crop.[25] Smoke from this burning produces a cloud of particulates visible from space[26] and has produced what has been described as a "toxic cloud" in New Delhi, resulting in declarations of an air-pollution emergency.[27] For this, the NGT (National Green Tribunal) instituted a fine of ₹2 lakh on the Delhi Government for failing to file an action plan providing incentives and infrastructural assistance to farmers to stop them from burning crop residue to prevent air pollution.[28]

Although harvesters such as the Indian-manufactured "Happy Seeder" that shred the crop residues into small pieces and uniformly spread them across the field are available as an alternative to burning stubble, and crops such as millets and maize can be grown as an sustainable alternative to rice and wheat in order to conserve water, some farmers complain that the cost of these machines is a significant financial burden, with the crops not incurred under MSP prices when compared to burning the fields and purchasing crops that are produced under MSP prices.[25]

The Indian Agricultural Research Institute, developed an enzyme bio-decomposer solution, that can be sprayed after the harvest, to increase organic carbon in the soil and maintain overall soil health.[6] In 2021, they began licensing its use to various companies.[29] In May 2022, the Government of Punjab announced they will purchase maize, bajra, sunflower and moong crops at MSP, encouraging farmers to adopt less water consuming options as a sustainable alternative to paddy and wheat in the wake of fast-depleting groundwater.[30] Stubble burning has increased 160% now in Rajasthan in India claims a minister. [1]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Grains and Other Crops» Crop Production» Stubble Burning".
  2. ^ Zhang, H.; Hu, D.; Chen, J.; Ye, X.; Wang, S. X.; Hao, J. M.; Wang, L.; Zhang, R.; An, Z. (2011). "Particle size distribution and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons emissions from agricultural crop residue burning". Environmental Science & Technology. 45 (13): 5477–82. Bibcode:2011EnST...45.5477Z. doi:10.1021/es1037904. PMID 21615081.
  3. ^ a b Ellison, Amelia (24 August 2013). "Stubble burns cause headache for firebrigades". The Wimmera Mail Times. Retrieved 24 August 2013.
  4. ^ Ferrandez-Garcia; García-Ortuño; Ferrández García; Ferrández-Villena; Ferrandez-Garcia (28 September 2017). "Fire-resistance, physical, and mechanical characterization of binderless rice straw particleboards". BioResources. 12 (4): 8539–8549. doi:10.15376/biores.12.4.8539-8549. Retrieved 1 December 2020.
  5. ^ Andrews, Susan S. (22 February 2006). "Crop Residue Removal for Biomass Energy Production: Effects on Soils and Recommendations" (PDF). Natural Resources Conservation Service. United States Department of Agriculture. Retrieved 3 January 2021.
  6. ^ a b c Kamali Dehghan, Saeed (10 December 2021). "Burning issue: how enzymes could end India's problem with stubble". The Guardian. Retrieved 11 December 2021.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  7. ^ "Innovation: paper made from agricultural waste up to 100%". PaperWise. Retrieved 22 April 2023.
  8. ^ "Our Technology". Vertoro. Retrieved 22 April 2023.
  9. ^ "Introduction". Fruitleather Rotterdam. Retrieved 22 April 2023.
  10. ^ "Wheat Straw Clamshells". Eco Products. Retrieved 22 April 2023.
  11. ^ "Valio and St1 joint venture, Suomen Lantakaasu Oy, ready to increase domestic biogas production". Valio. Retrieved 22 April 2023.
  12. ^ "Technology". PlasticFri. 13 May 2022. Retrieved 22 April 2023.
  13. ^ "The Crop Residues (Burning) Regulations 1993".
  14. ^ Tasker, Johann (30 May 2012). "Farmers step up stubble burning campaign". Retrieved 24 August 2013.
  15. ^ "Oregon Secretary of State Division Rules, Chapter 603, Division 77, "Field Burning Rules"". Retrieved 4 November 2019.
  16. ^ Idaho Department of Environmental Quality. "Crop Residue Burning". Retrieved 4 November 2019.
  18. ^ "Farmers burn wheat stubble despite ban". Peoples Daily. 15 June 2013. Retrieved 24 August 2013.
  19. ^ "Paddy stubble burning: Two farmers booked in Sangrur". Hindustan Times. 31 October 2014. Archived from the original on 2 November 2014. Retrieved 23 November 2014.
  20. ^ Slater, Joanna (15 October 2018). "India is trying to prevent apocalyptic air pollution. Step 1: Stop farmers from burning their fields". Washington Post. Retrieved 17 October 2018.
  21. ^ "Smoke from stubble fires engulfs Winnipeg". Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. 6 September 2007.
  22. ^ Geeta Anand, "Farmers’ Unchecked Crop Burning Fuels India's Air Pollution", The New York Times, 2 November 2016. Retrieved 9 November 2017.
  23. ^ Want govt to build 1600 km green wall along Aravalli, Indian Express, 24 December 2019.
  24. ^ Joydeep Thakur, Brace for air pollution in Delhi as crop burning starts in neighbouring states: Agricultural stubble running into millions of tonnes is burnt by farmers in northern India twice every year. An estimated 35 million tonnes are set afire in Punjab, Haryana, and Uttar Pradesh alone. Hindustan Times, 28 September 2017. Retrieved 9 November 2017.
  25. ^ a b Sowmiya Ashok, "Agricultural pollution: The fields are still burning", The Indian Express, 19 October 2017. Retrieved 9 November 2017.
  26. ^ NASA, "Stubble Burning in Northern India", Earth Observatory. Retrieved 9 November 2017.
  27. ^ Sanjeev Miglani and Aditya Kalra, "New Delhi declares emergency as toxic smog thickens by the hour", Reuters, 9 November 2017. Retrieved 9 November 2017.
  28. ^ "Crop burning: NGT slaps Rs 2 lakh as costs on Delhi govt for not filing action plan". Hindustan Times. 3 April 2018. Retrieved 26 June 2018.
  29. ^ Thiagarajan, Kamala (4 April 2022). "The world's most polluted capital city". Retrieved 10 April 2022.
  30. ^ Harmandeep Singh, "Punjab govt will purchase maize, bajra, other crops at MSP: CM Bhagwant Mann", Hindustan Times, 4 May 2022. Retrieved 5 May 2022.