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What Do I Do About These Cornstalks?

Nov 07, 2011

Question: What do I do about these cornstalks in my no-till fields? They don’t want to break down, and I’m already concerned about planting next spring.

Answer: That’s definitely an issue that a lot of farmers are dealing with. Traits designed to protect cornstalks do such a good job, they don’t break down over winter like we’d like for them to. It’s good, especially in corn-on-corn rotations, to carefully think through the trash issue. When corn decomposes, it emits a toxin that can be troublesome the following spring in corn-on-corn situations. In no-till corn-on-corn, our studies show that the further you can plant corn away from the previous year’s crown root growth, the better your corn crop is likely to perform. That’s assuming you don’t have wheel track compaction from previous trips in the field. If you aren’t completely done with harvest this season, consider that your combine plays an important role in helping distribute residue evenly on fields which helps with decomposition. Shredders and spreaders that attach to the combine can even out distribution. However, in some cases, large headers on combines can create a trail of residue behind the machine. You can readily tell whether this is your situation by just observing what’s in your field. If it is a problem, then adjust your combine settings. One caution: shredding stalks in no-till operations comes with a risk that they'll blow away with high winds or that a flood will cause them to float away onto your neighbors’ fields. Another consideration is that residue management is part of a good fertility program. Residue decomposition is driven by soil microbes that are very sensitive to soil pH. Acid soils lead to poor decomposition, so it’s important to keep soil pH balanced.
Learn more about how to measure residue and mange it here.
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