Residue Management: Making The Right Decisions
From trash to treasure, crop residue used to be simply the material left in the field after harvest. Now, its higher-quality name better reflects the value it holds — both as its use for the actual material, such as baled straw, and for the benefits that properly managed crop residue can offer the soil. These benefits can range from reducing wind and water erosion to increasing overall organic matter or to providing nutrient value.
Effective residue management starts with the decisions you make at harvest. Depending on your needs, your combine presents a great deal of liberty for leaving residue how you want it, whether that be mostly intact or finely chopped and distributed. For example, running the header as high as possible in small grains will reduce the amount of straw going through the machine, reducing the volume of ground-up straw and leaving more standing straw for erosion protection. Conversely, running the header lower will put more straw through the machine and the straw chopper, sizing more of the stems for better decomposition.
The situation is similar when working with corn, with a slight twist. Although header height doesn’t affect the amount of material entering the combine, lower header heights pull more of the stalk through the stalk rolls in the header, which tend to crush tough stalks and open them for faster decomposition. Chopping corn heads offers the option of chopping stalks at harvest.
Unless your postharvest plans call for harvesting straw or stover, you’ll likely want to chop residue as finely as possible from the combine and spread it the full width of the header. This is a key step in helping promote even germination and emergence of the next crop.
After the combine leaves the field, you have options for managing residue and preparing the seedbed. Whatever method you choose, your goal should be a seedbed with consistent moisture and temperature, as well as ample tilth for good seed-to-soil contact, root growth, and air and moisture movement.
(The previous article “Residue Management: Making The Right Decisions” was archived on December 21 2017 via http://blog.caseih.com.)