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Tips for no-tilling into heavy corn residue

Often producers are concerned about no-tilling into fields with large amounts of residue. The residue needs to be properly spread behind the combine during harvest of the previous crop, preferably with a straw chopper and proper chaff distribution. Minimize any residue disturbance (rolling stalk chopping or shredding) before or during planting. Leave as much residue anchored, attached, and standing upright as possible. That way you don't have to handle it and when you do run across it, the soil holds it so that the equipment can pass over it. The time and place to precondition corn residue is during harvest using knife-edged snapping rolls on the combine with the head running about 6 inches off the ground.

Today's planters have no trouble planting through heavy residue as long as weight has been added to the row units so they don't ride up over the residue, leaving the seed on the soil surface. For most planting conditions, raise residue movers so they run about 2 inches above the soil surface. At this height, they act as a "V plow" to lay the stalks to the side so that you only have to cut the stalks near the base.

For corn planting, set the depth control for about a 2.5- to 3-inch planting depth on bare soil so that when the depth gauge wheels run on the residue and over the root stumps, you are still putting the seed into the soil to at least a 2-inch planting depth. This is why weight is added to the planting units. Slow the planter to 4.5 or 5 mph so that you don't bounce over root stumps and add a "walking beam" depth control stop to John Deere planters if they don't already have one. If your double disk seed furrow openers are sharp and working together, they will cut down through the old root stump and put the seed into soil, even through residue from 250 bu/ac corn production. (Remember, the root mass you see forms about 1 inch above the seed at the nodal roots.)

For no-till, especially under heavy residue conditions, put a pop-up fertilizer in furrow, regardless of the soil phosphorus level (ie: 5-7 gal/ac 10-34-0). With the heavy residue, the soil may be a little cooler than if you moved the residue aside so the slower growing roots may have a temporary nutrient deficiency. The pop-up gets that seedling going and overcomes that problem.

Research in Minnesota on flat, poorly drained soils showed a yield response to pop-up fertilizer in heavy residue (regardless of soil phosphorus level) and showed a yield response to moving some residue out of the row, but not an additive effect. For Nebraska's conditions, most no-tillers should use the pop-up because shortly after planting, they will wish they had the residue back over the row to reduce soil crusting, conserve moisture, and reduce erosion. Also, disturbing the residue at planting makes planting much more difficult if the soil is wet under the residue. Without disturbing the residue, the depth gauge wheels of the planter ride on the residue and don't mud up, making planting depth much more uniform.

After planting, that residue over the row reduces the night time cooling of the row area by reducing the amount of heat radiating from the soil surface. The cooling when residue is removed leads to more stress on the seedlings because the seed zone isn't "buffered" with insulating residue. With the drainage of most of our Nebraska soils, the soil temperature difference isn't usually enough to worry about moving residue at planting time.

Many no-tillers also equip their planters with either Keeton Seed Firmers or Schaffert Rebounders to make sure that all the seeds are in the bottom of the furrow. Both of these devices can be set up to put the pop-up fertilizer in the furrow. The Keeton has the advantage of firming the seed into the seed-vee while the Rebounder is less likely to "mud up" in sticky clay soils. These devices quickly pay for themselves with more uniform seedling emergence. When it comes to yields, non-uniform emergence hurts you far more than non-uniform spacing.

Some producers are no-tilling into heavy residue on poorly drained soils where moisture conservation and erosion control aren't concerns. They try to dry out the seedbed at planting time and don't want any residue over the row.

These producers maintain as much standing, anchored residue as possible to maximize air flow down to the soil surface. They run a large diameter fertilizer opener on their planter to cut the residue and to provide for 2x2 placement (nitrogen and any higher salt content fertilizers that might be needed). They run residue movers, usually free floating ones, very shallow to part the residue (easy to do as the residue has already been cut). They also use a pop-up fertilizer in-furrow.

Many of them run spoked closing wheels to further till the soil so that it dries out and drag chains behind the wheels to smooth the soil surface. Most of these producers plant either in the row middles or slightly off the existing row rather than down the old row, however some notice reduced yields in the wheel track rows.

Almost any successful no-tiller will tell you that crop rotation is a key to success, especially under heavy residue conditions. Very few like to no-till corn-on-corn. Those who do say weight for penetration, a pop-up fertilizer, a soil insecticide, and the right hybrid to handle the stress are keys to making it work.

Often producers are concerned about no-tilling into fields with large amounts of residue. The residue needs to be properly spread behind the combine during harvest of the previous crop, preferably with a straw chopper and proper chaff distribution. Minimize any residue disturbance (rolling stalk chopping or shredding) before or during planting. Leave as much residue anchored, attached, and standing upright as possible. That way you don't have to handle it and when you do run across it, the soil holds it so that the equipment can pass over it. The time and place to precondition corn residue is during harvest using knife-edged snapping rolls on the combine with the head running about 6 inches off the ground.

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