Pioneer Agronomist: Realizing No-Till Benefits Requires Residue Management

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No-tillage crop production is increasingly popular as growers seek to reduce costs and enroll in new conservation programs. While reducing tillage offers several benefits, including trapping more soil moisture and reducing erosion, avoiding residue problems requires proper management.

“Being able to maintain and keep any sort of residue on a field would have been unheard of 40 years ago,” said Matt Montgomery, Pioneer Field Agronomist. “Back then, soil would have been completely rolled over and all you would see are bare fields.”

Corn residue resists decomposition, which can create excess residue. Residue that is not incorporated in the fall will largely remain intact in the spring. In general, more corn residue decomposes when tillage is done in the fall than in the spring.
Whether tillage or stalk chopping was performed in the fall, it is important to bury residue as early as practical in the spring if the goal is to reduce high residue loads.

Residue can also be managed at the planter. Planter-mounted devices, such as coulters, clearing discs, sweeps, brushes and rolling fingers, can cut and move residue to clear a 6- to 10-inch path in front of the planting units. This can minimize the detrimental effects of residue in the row area while maintaining the residue benefits on the surrounding field.

“We may not have been handed our fields in great condition, but we want to ensure we’re handing off fields better to those generations coming after us,” Montgomery said. “Starting clean and staying clean will help us hand off a better, more fertile field to future generations.”