No-till Residue Management
Residue cover is certainly an important contributor to the soil and water conservation benefits of no-till, but successful planting in no-till hinges on managing that residue correctly, and begins at the time of the harvest of the proceeding crop in the field.
I think that's a number one item to focus on in no-till.
If you're going to run a combine through there. An even spreading of the residual is very critical.
At the time of harvest when it's coming out it's the best time to do that, get it spread pretty much the width of the header. It's pretty easy to do with the corn harvest, With soybean stubble could be more of a challenge. The better you have it spread the easier it is for your planter to come along and because you don't have clumps and that sort of thing.
The worst scenario is when you have just a windrow and then you try to plant in the next year and you have all this residue concentrated right in this small area that keeps the soil wet underneath. That's one disadvantage, plus you have all that residue for your planter to handle in one area. It makes it difficult.
We try pretty hard to get an even spread from the back of the combine, because if you have bunches of residue or rows of residue when things dry out in the spring naturally you're going to have moisture underneath your residue where it's heavy and it will be dry where there is light residue. So the more evenly you can spread that, the more evenly that field is going to plant in the spring. It might not plant a a day earlier, but at least when one part of the field comes in and is ready the rest of it will be too, so you're not fighting a two stage drying system in the field. It's all coming around at the same time.
The straw spreader, here you can see the various fins that they're angled to spread this the width of the head, and also there's an adjustment here to be made as far as the angle of this deflector. When we bought the machine it had a smaller head on it and we weren't throwing the trash the full width. Our head is 5 foot larger, so we adjusted this just one notch, brought this up and allowed the residue to be spread evenly. So sometimes just a little thing like that can make a big difference. Also when we do the soybeans there's knives down here. I don't think you can see or not that get put up in the chopper that chops the residue up and makes it spread a little bit nicer. So little things like that can make a difference in spreading the residue.
Heavy corn stalk residue in fields with high grain yields is not the ideal place for planting winter grain crops. But with the no-till drills that are available today and with careful management these can be planted successfully.
I normally don't have problems. This particular drill, it does a really nice job cutting into the cover. I do step up the population especially on my small grains, my wheat and my barley.
I will step up population in order to compensate for some of those seeds that might not quite get covered and might not germinate. The other challenge that we have been having in the last number of years is a lot of attention has been given to Bt corn and it seems as though the stalk is a lot tougher. It wants to stay greener longer. There's a lot more strength to the stalk and it's harder to break down and harder to cut through too.
Keep the metal on your blades in good condition. Don't be scared to spend money on no-till coulters. It really pays to have a good cut to cut through the material.
For spring planted crops several options are available that can help make this heavy residue cover easier to deal with.
If you have really heavy residue cover from past years crops, that could be a detriment to getting seed to soil contact you might want to consider mounting a row sweep in front of the planting unit to sweep that trash out of the way a little bit. Also to plant a cover crop, if you use a drill that knocks down that corn residue and puts a cover crop in, it seems like the residue decays fastest if it stays a little bit moist. At the base of the growing cover crop it stays moist and it helps to decay a little bit quicker.
I like to no-till drill all my cover crop in. I think the no-till drill does about the right amount of damage to the corn stalk. It puts it on the ground and allows it to deteriorate a little more over the winter. Last fall there were some corn stalks I didn't get cover cropped. And this spring planting we had a little more trouble with some planter choke up because we had too much fodder. Where we had cover crop that fodder deteriorated a good bit, and was very helpful in planting.
Well I think the biggest thing here which I enjoy with this is this makes this residual just so much nicer to plant in next spring. The drill chops this up a little bit and rye just as it grows through the winter just puts things into place and this plants more like planting in bean ground than no-till corn ground. We see that much difference.
We just try and plant between the rows and try and let the row cleaners clean it up between the rows and if we've done a good job of cover cropping with our drill, that seems to have taken care of the fodder enough.
There's one thing that I've noticed in my no-till program here with mowing. I do use a rotary chopper usually around the outside edge of the field just to trim up the fence rows or if there's any escape weeds between the two fields. And I find it's really hard to cut through that material for some reason with my no-till drill here. It just doesn't seem to flow through quite as easy. I have more trouble with it dragging. And also I feel that in the spring time when the weather starts warming up, it just takes a lot longer for that ground to warm up. It makes too much of a mat across the field and the sunshine and the heat can't get down to warm up and dry out the soil. So that's another good reason not to be shredding some corn stalks.
I don't like shredding stalks, 'cause they all blow away over the winter, not all of them, but a lot do. I think some of the new shredder heads on combines are very good because they leave about a foot of stalk stand, and that seems to act like a snow fence which keeps your stalks in place. But if you go in a field with a shredder in the fall and shred your stalks, a large portion will blow off the field. They don't stay put. So therefore I have not shredded stalks in 15 years.
Chopping or shredding corn stalks can be a useful tool by which the amount of crop residue If you have a large residue buildup a heavy mat of trash on top of the ground, you might want to consider something to help to move that decay along. So something like shredding corn head that sizes and breaks down that residue might help. Also possibly occasionally run a stalk chopper, although I don't really think it's that necessary every year. I know it's not necessary every year, but it might be something that would help on an occasional basis.
This field here would be a third year combine corn and prior to what we had looked at down there at the other farm, we took this field and we bush hogged the residual here and planted through that. And what we've been finding is when we get into areas where we're bunching up on corn, maybe second year corn, so we get a residual of corn that's maybe making it just a little bit more difficult to plant through and we found out if you just look at this, see how this is kind of on the way, once we chop this up and run this drill through there and get this cover started here, we definitely have less residual to deal with next spring to plant corn or beans here. This would actually, we have actually seen that this has been suitable to sow alfalfa in here next spring. We sowed alfalfa in fields like this, it definitely cuts back on the residual. It's getting to the point where our protocol has been that if we think we're going to be short on residual, we'll plant the cover crop and we will not bush hog it. And if we think we have a build up of residual, we will bush hog it before we plant the cover crop. We more or less gain a little bit better control of the residual on these fields as we continue in this process and continuous no-till.