Ways with Residue
Crop residue is as good as gold. The more there is, the bigger the bank of stored fertility.
“If we can get that residue to break down by natural processes, the nutrients going back into the soil will feed a crop in the future,” says Bill Kuehn, who farms with his wife, Laurie, near Turtle Lake, North Dakota.
The Kuehns no-till spring wheat, durum wheat, winter wheat, corn, canola, peas, and flax. Managing residue from those crops helps reap future fertility, soil quality, moisture savings, and wind and water conservation benefits.
“Of all the crops, cereal grains present the greatest challenge to managing residue,” says Cal Hoff, a Richardton, North Dakota, no-tiller who farms with his wife, Julie, and son, Casey.
However, the challenge is limited mainly to the year the residue was produced. In mature no-till systems, the increasing soil biological activity accelerates residue breakdown. “As the health of our soil improves, the soil microbes help the residue to disappear more quickly,” says Hoff.
Here are five practices they and Greg Endres, Extension agronomist at the North Dakota State University Carrington Research Extension Center, use to mange no-till residue.
1. Leave tall residue
In fact, the taller the better. “Especially with wheat and corn residue, the more of it that can be left standing, the easier it is to plant the next crop,” says Endres.
The taller the stubble, the less crop aftermath to be spread by the combine’s chopper. This lowers the chance of excess residue sealing the ground surface and keeping it cold and wet.
“Such conditions make it hard to get a crop off to a good start the next spring,” says Endres.
Bill Kuehn’s present knife-opener seeding system handles wheat stubble of 12 inches and canola stubble of 2 feet.