While attending the 6th World Congress on Conservation Agriculture this week in Winnipeg, Manitoba, I heard some interesting points made about farming successfully in dryland no-till conditions.

One of them seemed to prove, once again, how valuable no-till residue is to blanketing fields from the elements, when capturing every drop of moisture is crucial to making a crop.

Australian no-tiller, researcher and farm advisor Bill Crabtree, who raises wheat and some canola on 7,000 acres in western Australia, discussed his “checkerboard experiment” where he burned some of his crop residue. The area Crabtree farms borders a desert and receives about 11 inches of annual rainfall.

After a good growing season that included several inches of rain, Crabtree’s wheat germinated in areas with and without residue. Canola planted the next year germinated in the burned fields, but not very well. And last year, wheat seeded into fields where residue was burned didn’t germinate at all.

“The soil got pulverized by the sun, heat, wind and by raindrop impact when we did have rain,” Crabtree says. “Where we had no residue, there was no crop. That’s why I’m passionate about not burning residue.” 

I understand that burning residue is a practice that may be used to deal with excessive levels of crop residue or clean up other problems in certain fields, but I think it’s clear that removing residue that protects soils from the elements may have costly consequences.

To see an article No-Till Farmer published about what happens when residue cover is burned off a field — even if it’s accidental burning — click here.

You can also see interesting tidbits and comments from speakers from the WCCA, hosted by the Conservation Technology Information Center, by clicking here