Heavy rains in parts of the Midwest have caused cornstalks and other crop debris to wash off fields and onto roads, drainage ditches and catch basins, resulting in flooding and road obstruction. 

The Chicago Tribune reported that in Porter County, Ind., around 10 truckloads of corn remnants had to be removed from a ditch that was causing flooding in a subdivision. And the debris was so bad on the roads in Allen County, Ohio, snowplow drivers had to clear the streets, The Lima News says.

While the media has acknowledged that no-till has its benefits — citing cost effectiveness and reduction in phosphorus runoff — the practice is getting the blame because it leaves crop residue on the surface.

But not everyone agrees that’s the case.

Celina, Ohio, no-tiller Jeff Rasawehr responded to The Lima News article that it wasn’t no-till causing residue washing, but the rising adoption of vertical tillage in the area.

“It looks great,” Rasawehr wrote. “Problem is it’s a horrible idea. Any farmer who runs the numbers on what it costs will find they are losing money. What’s more, it makes any heavy rainfall an absolute mess, as dislodged and ground corn stover washes all over.”

Instead, he suggests no-tillers seed a moderate diversity of cover crops to hold the fodder in place and stimulate microbial activity to break residue down.  

I agree that no-till isn’t the problem. What would happen if everyone were conventionally tilling? Instead of stalks, it would be valuable topsoil running off fields.

But if you are seeing residue leaving your fields, which is also a valuable resource that protects and feeds the soil, now may be the time to think about where improvements could be made. Maybe seed a cover crop, as Rasawehr suggests, or invest in a corn header that leaves the stalk more intact. If you do use a vertical-tillage tool and see stalks running off, are you perhaps running it too aggressively? Can adjustments be made? 

Is this a problem you’ve faced on your no-till operation? What changes are you considering, or what solutions have you already implemented? Leave a comment below and share your advice with other no-tillers.