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Residue Cycling

Ontario corn yields have increased by almost 2 bu/ac/year over the last 30 years. While this yield increase is good for profitability, it has created issues. More yield means more residue, which is both good and bad. Fundamentally more residue is a great thing, it leads to increased soil organic matter and typically less erosion. However, high residue levels wreak havoc on seed bed preparation and planting.  Residue covered soils stay cool and wet in the spring, delaying field operations and crop growth. Also, if not managed correctly, residue can enter the seed trench causing uneven emergence and disease. High carbon residue, like corn stalks, tie up soil nitrogen as it breaks down.  How crop residue is handled can have a direct impact on your farm’s bottom line. Typically, the faster residue is broken down the better. Residue is decayed and cycled by soil organisms such as earthworms and microbes. Since these organisms live in the soil, it is essential that residue be in contact with the soil to be broken down effectively. In some environments residue is left standing to minimize ground insulation in the spring. This method allows for earlier spring field operations, but delays residue breakdown. In other environments growers either lay residue flat, or till it into ground to get as much soil contact as possible. The more surface area exposed to soil organisms the faster breakdown will occur.

The residue cycle begins at harvest with the combine pass. How residue is left by the combine, sets the starting point for breakdown. 360 Chainroll is a retrofit combine head stalk roll that crimps and smashes corn stalks every inch, but leaves the stalk in connected “chain” segments. The crimps open up and create more surface area for microbes to feed on the stalk, but still allows row cleaners to function properly at planting. This contrasts with chopping heads which often leave residue pieces too small for row cleaners to effectively move. Whether full tillage or no-till, Chainroll offers increased corn stalk breakdown activity.

Planter row cleaners are a valuable tool for clearing all types of residue. Almost any situation can benefit from having a row cleaner in front of the seed opener. Row cleaner type and adjustment are extremely important. A poorly performing row cleaner will either not properly move residue, or may be too aggressive and cut a trench in the soil. In our experience floating row cleaners with treader wheels will typically outperform other setups. When coupled with CleanSweep they can be easily adjusted from the cab as field and residue conditions change.

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