Does GMO Crop Residue Break Down Slower than Non-GMO?

The determining factor in efficient residue decomposition is not GMO traits but soil health

One question that sparks disagreement among no-tillers is whether there is a difference between the way genetically modified (GMO) and non-GMO corn stalk residue breaks down

The breakdown of crop residue allows for additional nutrients to be recycled back into a field, supporting soil health and allowing biological life to flourish. Without good residue breakdown, nutrients may sit unavailable on top of the soil, establishing good seed-to-soil contact while planting is more difficult, plant emergence suffers, and the warming and drying of the soil before planting is slowed, allowing for potential development of disease. 

Many growers believe GMO corn breaks down at a slower rate than non-GMO corn, which not only influences whether farmers add additional fall products to their soils, but it can also encourage tillage. 

“The common thought was that tillage would break the corn residue up into smaller pieces and incorporate the residue into the soil profile, and it was assumed that these actions allowed the crop residue to break down faster,” says Jim Hoorman, a no-till and cover crop educator, and founder of Hoorman Soil Health Services in Hancock County, Ohio.

Hoorman, who spent 24 years as an extension educator with Ohio State University and worked with the NRCS as a soil health specialist, says there seems to be a misconception about what causes corn stalks to break down quickly. 

“If you’re using a lot of insecticides, you’re going to take out those arthropods — the springtails, the mites,” Hoorman says. “What they do is help…

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Maclaren Krueger

Maclaren Krueger is an editorial intern for No-Till Farmer, Strip-Till Farmer, Cover Crop Strategies and other Lessiter Media publications. They have a background in photography and graduated with a degree in English, Creative Writing and Publishing from the University of Iowa. 

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