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Machinery Insider Tip: Reconsider Chopping Residue

The challenge of getting massive amounts of corn residue broken down to prepare fields for planting has farmers looking longingly at flail or rotary choppers. But Richard Wolkowski points out that corn residue deteriorates more rapidly when left standing in the field.

“Chopping can leave a mat of residue that may keep a no-till surface wetter and colder in the spring, whereas unchopped residue remains upright, allowing for better air circulation and drying,” the University of Wisconsin engineer points out. 

A University of Wisconsin research team conducted field studies comparing no-till to chisel fields in continuous corn. That research found, for example, that chopping stalks followed by chisel-plowing did reduce surface residues from 61% down to 42%, on average. But that treatment did not affect the early-season soil temperature, emergence rate, final stand, early-season plant height, or corn grain yield.

“We compared this to no-tilling in which we used finger coulters to remove residue ahead of the double-disc openers,” Wolkowski says. “What we have seen so far is that no-till performs very well (without an additional treatment such as chopping). If it’s done properly and if other things (such as fertility, weed, pest, and traffic management) are taken care of appropriately, I think a no-till system performs very well in heavy residue in corn-on-corn."


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