With planting near completion for much of the Cornbelt, it is an exciting time to see crops emerge and off to a great start! As farmers, we love to drive by our fields and row our crops and see even emerging stands. Over the years there have been a lot of different management practices regarding residue management. Rather than the typical conventional tillage programs, we now have strip till, vertical till, no till, etc. Each practice has its own benefits and challenges when trying to balance environmental stewardship and optimizing yields. Here is a little bit of insight into these practices.
Conventional tillage is what most of us are familiar with, usually implies primary tillage to break up residue/compaction and using secondary tillage to level off the field and create our seedbed. The advantages to this include compaction elimination, residue breakdown, and an even seedbed. Tilled soil also has an advantage by warming soils up faster to get us to the field sooner. Some disadvantages include soil erosion and a decrease in soil health.
No till/minimum tillage where we are leaving larger amounts of residue on the surface and having minimal soil disturbance. Advantages include less soil erosion, more microbial activity, and better overall soil health. The disadvantages include more residue to manage at the planter, cooler soil temps, and sometimes more compaction. Some have started implementing cover crops to control weeds, eliminate compaction, and bring nutrients to the top soil layer.
Strip tillage is gaining popularity and is rather a mix of conventional tillage and no till. By only tilling the pass the seed will be planted. Growers can minimize soil disturbance and create a nice seed bed to plant into. Growers have also began banding their fertilizer in these strips to decrease input costs and place fertilizer where it is needed.
The disadvantages to strip till is sometimes the upfront cost of equipment (RTK guidance, Strip Till bar) and the ideal window to create these strips so we can plant into them.
As you can see above each method has a give and take. A lot like what we see in other aspects of farming. It is important to assess your farming operation to see which practice/practices are most practical for your farm.
Residue Management at the Planter
Residue management begins at harvest, but is most important in the spring. There have been a lot of advancements in planter technology that have helped us all achieve higher yields by better seed placement. As we talked above with the different tillage practices, there needs to be some consideration in residue management at the planter to insure our seed is off to a good start. Each operation will have unique needs based on their program and their environments they will be planting in.
Planter mounted coulters at the front of the disc openers are an option. These tend to work best in no till operations with their ability to slice residue and break up a little soil in front of the disc openers. They also help extend the life of the disc openers insuring good placement. With new products and technology, these have decreased in popularity a bit, but are still an option.
Row cleaners are probably the most popular option today for most growers. They allow residue and soil clods to be pushed away from the row for proper seed placement and minimize residue buildup. There are many kinds of row cleaners such as rigid, floating and pneumatic. Whichever one is chosen; proper adjustments are needed to insure good seed placement and residue management. If they are too aggressive they can create a trench and “bulldoze” creating an uneven seed trench, and if they are too light they might not get the job done. I personally prefer pneumatic row cleaners as they can be adjusted easily to compensate for variable soils and conditions.
Payoff for residue management
Whatever route we choose for managing our residue at planting; the goal is to ensure good seedling emergence and uniform stands. If we fail to achieve this, we could be leaving dollars behind right at the start. Residue if not managed correctly at planting can leave the seed trench with variable temperatures and moisture which can result in uneven emergence. A research study was done through the University of Illinois, University of Minnesota, and University of Wisconsin which assessed the cost of uneven emergence on yield. When a stand had mixed plant emergence of about 1.5 weeks, yields were reduced by about 6% compared to if the whole field was delayed and planted 1.5 weeks later yields were reduced by only 5%. The reason for this is the late plants become weeds and compete for water, sunlight, and nutrients. For example, a field with 200 bu/A yield potential could be limited to only 188 bu/A if uneven emergence is a problem. Even distribution of residue is also important to insure residue breakdown and easier management in the spring. Even distribution also contributes to soil health by providing the soil biological community with N and organic carbon for its food source.
Early this spring as crops are coming up, take a closer look at the field and assess how well your planter was performing by your emergence. With an increase in reduced tillage and higher populations with tougher stalks, we may need to make some adjustments to our residue management to insure we give our crops a great start this spring.
Resources and Additional Information
Note: The information in this issue is based upon field observations and third-party information. Since variations in local conditions may affect the information and suggestions contained in this issue, LG Seeds disclaims legal responsibility therefore. Always read and follow label instructions.
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Download a copy of this Technical Bulletin: Tech_378 - Residue Management at Planting