Sustainable Stover Harvest Strategies
Posted: September 25, 2012
As grain harvest gets underway, the next harvest in some fields will be a stover harvest as a result of increased demand for bedding and compost. We have been studying stover harvest for the last five years and feel there are some key management considerations that can minimize the impact of harvest on the soil. Stover harvest impacts the soil in three ways: it can increase soil erosion, it can reduce soil organic matter or carbon levels over time, and it can remove soil nutrients. On the positive side, though, removing some stover can help create a better seedbed, eliminate the need for fall tillage, reduce slug pressure, help soils warm up faster in the spring and reduce the innoculum for some crop diseases. If you are considering a stover harvest, think about implementing one or more of these practices to minimize some of the impacts on the soil.
- Don’t harvest all the stover- leave some behind to provide carbon and soil coverage.
- Consider applying manure or compost to these fields to add carbon and nutrients. One application of 10 tons of cattle manure with 15% carbon can supply 3000 lbs of carbon compared 1600 lbs of carbon removed in a 2.0 ton stover harvest.
- Plan to no-till succeeding crops to maintain organic matter and reduce erosion.
- Plant a cover crop or small grain following a fall stover harvest to increase organic matter and reduce erosion.
- Alternate fields where stover is harvested, if possible.
- Replace P and K removed in the stover harvest if necessary. Our data has shown 4 lb P2O5 and 26 lb K2O per ton in the stover immediately following grain harvest.
- Delay stover harvest until spring. This provides soil coverage over the winter months and allows much of the potash in the stover to be leached back into the soil. In our work in the spring, we found removal rates to be 2.5 lb P2O5 and 7.2 lb K2O per ton.