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OVER THE YEARS, we’ve written numerous articles on the value of leaving all the crop residue in no-tilled fields. Veteran no-tillers have told us they wouldn’t part with any residue, even with a price tag of $100 a ton.
Research shows farmers who moldboard plow need to retain 3.4 tons of corn stalks per acre to protect the soil. Since this drops to only 2.3 tons of residue per acre with no-till, you might think no-tillers could want to sell some residue. But that hasn’t been the case.
While much of the research done on the value of no-till residue has taken place in Corn Belt areas where moisture isn’t a major concern, there’s been little data gathered from drier areas. That’s why results from 6 years of trials at the USDA’s Northern Great Plains Research Laboratory sheds new light on no-till residue removal.
These trials at Mandan, N.D., looked at the impact on yield from removing crop residue with three rotations. These included a spring wheat and field pea rotation; a spring wheat and dry pea cover crop mix rotation; and a spring wheat, dry pea and corn rotation. With each rotation, researchers evaluated four options: not removing any residue; baling and removing wheat straw; baling and removing residue from each crop; and grazing all residue.
The results showed significant drops in corn yields when wheat straw was baled and removed or when residue was removed from all of the crops vs. leaving all residue in…