Cut Down to Size

July 21, 2008 06:44 AM

Let's trash talk—crop residue. The way you manage residue right now at harvest will affect your crop next year.

In all tillage systems the key is decomposing the remainder of this year's crop and preparing a proper seedbed. Chopping corn heads are one of the tools that can help get the job done.

In 2006, we used a Geringhoff Rota-Disc in the Farm Journal Test Plots to see how choppers impacted residue. "We wanted to see firsthand how the technology works,” says Farm Journal Field Agronomist Ken Ferrie, who oversaw the demonstration.

"For the farmer who is fighting a time window and labor issues, it has some definite advantages by combining a chopping head and then chiseling in the lime and fertilizer,” he says.

We ran the 8-row head through about 400 acres near Leroy, Ill. As the combine muscled through the field, a rotating knife sliced the stalk against a stationary knife. This knife-to-knife contact provides a cut about 6" off the ground at a 25° angle. Then, a knife slices the remaining stalk vertically.

To compare its performance, we chiseled across the entire field but alternated rounds of where the chopper head and regular head ran. The plot crew observed the results after harvest and in the spring before planting. "It did a really good job of shredding the stalk, equivalent or better than a shredder,” Ferrie says.

"In the spring, that soil from the shredded lands was a bit darker and the residue decomposed faster. However, both strips planted very well.”

Cole Dooley, our farmer–cooperator at McLaughlin-Dooley Farms, says he was impressed by its performance.

"It needed about 20 to 30 more horsepower than a regular head, but it definitely shredded those stalks really well,” Dooley says.

He adds that attaching this head and taking it back off didn't require extra effort compared to a regular corn head.

As farmers push populations and squeeze row spacings, this dual purpose harvest tool may play a key role in those heavy residue conditions. "For narrow-row farmers with twins and 20s, shredded stalks will go through their planter better that next spring,” Ferrie says.

This tool may find another niche in corn-on-corn acres. "This fits the corn-on-corn market because guys are harvesting and then chisel plowing,” Ferrie says. "One of the reasons they are shredding stalks is because it helps residue flow through their fall tillage.”

However, shredding stalks may not be the blanket answer to everyone's residue concerns. "Shredding stalks in no-till and strip-till operations comes with a risk that they'll blow away with high winds or a flood will cause them to float away,” Ferrie says.

The bottom line with sizing residue is to prepare the soil for the next crop and eliminate tillage and planter clogs.

Ferrie says, "If shredded stalks flow through the planter better, it'll show up in yield.”


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