Sheared, Cut Residue Benefits Earthworms, No-Tilling

Data from a family-owned western Illinois research farm demonstrates that more finely processed corn stalks break down more quickly, improve nutrient cycling and earthworm populations.

Recent research on Alpha, Ill., no-tiller Marion Calmer’s farm appears to show the value of using advanced technology in today’s corn heads to more effectively manage residue during harvest.

Many no-tillers face difficult management decisions at harvest in deciding how much of the stalk should be processed by the corn head and combine, as field conditions after harvest play a big role in planting success the following year.

Residue management can also determine to what extent nutrients are tied up in residue in a field, potentially affecting yields, along with soil moisture and temperature levels in the spring. Even earthworm populations can be impacted by residue distribution, particularly by the size of the pieces remaining, experts say.

Feed the Worms.

For the last few years, Calmer says he’s been working to pinpoint the benefits of proper residue breakdown in a no-till system. In the fall of 2013, he set up a combine with a custom-built corn head.

On one side, the head had his company’s BT Chopper stalk rolls installed, and on the other side a factory-made stalk-roll system (OEM).

BT Choppers shear stalks into two halves, and cut them into pieces about 1½-2½ inches long. The OEM technology used in this study left stalks at a medium length of 6 inches and slightly mangled, Calmer says.

Last spring, about 18 months after corn was harvested from these research plots, Calmer looked at the side-by-side results and saw visual differences in the way corn residue was decomposing.

He noted the…

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John-dobberstein2

John Dobberstein

John Dobberstein is senior editor of No-Till Farmer magazine and the e-newsletter Dryland No-TillerHe previously covered agriculture for the Tulsa World and worked for daily newspapers in Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Joseph, Mich. He graduated with a B.A. in journalism and political science from Central Michigan University.

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