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How Can We Make Cornstalks Break Down?

Mar 21, 2011


How Can We Make Cornstalks Break Down?
Question: We are having a problem getting our cornstalks to break down over winter, and I’m concerned going into spring planting. What can we do to address that?
Answer: We are hearing from farmers on a fairly regular basis about this issue. Striving for higher corn yields, pushing populations to the limit, and demanding healthy corn genetics with good stalk strength, have all caused this extra residue. 
Residue breakdown, for the most part, requires the residue to be in contact with the soil. The soil contains beneficial bacteria and fungi that use the residue as an energy/food source to survive, in the process breaking down the residue. There are several things we need to do to have robust, healthy micro-organism populations. Bacteria and fungi require air, moisture, and good nutrient load, just like the crops we are growing. This requires that we take care of the soil chemistry (pH and nutrients) and soil physical properties (air and moisture movement up and down). 
Uniform Soil Density, a term used frequently at Farm Journal Corn College, allows the proper air and moisture movement for bacteria and fungi. How you handle the residue this spring depends a lot on the soil type. Be careful not to cause more problems, than just heavy residue, by a tillage pass that leaves you in worse shape. Avoid “tough residue times” during early morning, late evening and high-humidity days. Double-check the size of the coulters on your drill/planter, make sure the diameter is at the recommended size and the cutting edge is good. Work on growing beneficial bacteria and fungi, and your crops will thank you.
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