With harvest underway, residue management is likely top of mind for no-tillers. Growers need to leave enough residue to protect the soil, provide nutrients and feed soil microorganisms. But too much residue — or residue that wasn’t properly distributed — can inhibit planting and the success of next year’s crop.

Having too much residue is often the problem beginning no-tillers are more likely to struggle with, and the problem can take awhile to resolve. In a recent No-Till Farmer webinar, Doug Miller, agronomist and vice president of Midwest Bio-Tech, showed a photo of a cornstalk that was still present in the field after soybean harvest.

“The value of that residue has not yet been realized,” he explains. “We haven’t recycled those nutrients. And since it’s laying there right in that soybean row, it might have caused trouble with emergence and growth of that crop.”

So is there anything you can do to help your residue break down faster?

First, you may want to ignore claims that a tillage pass or nitrogen (N) application can help. An article written by Iowa State University Extension agronomist Mahdi Al-Kaisi explains that both practices can be counterproductive from economic and environmental perspectives.

“Residue decomposition is controlled by biological processes that are influenced by environmental and soil conditions,” he writes.

With that said, applications of biological products may be beneficial in residue management. A fairly recent Beck’s Practical Farm Research study looked at four products designed to break down excessive surface residue in a no-till continuous corn rotation.

One quart of Robust, 16 ounces of RES 16, 15 gallons of 28% UAN and 1 quart of IgniteS2 were applied to corn residue at the company’s plots in Atlanta, Ind., on Sept. 20, 2014. Corn was no-tilled the following May and harvested in September.

Of the four products, Robust and RES 16 both saw a positive return on investment (ROI), providing a yield increase of 6.7 bushels and 5.2 bushels per acre, respectively. Based on the 2 years of the study, RES 16 has provided an average $23.03 per acre ROI, and Robust provided an average $13.12 per acre ROI. 

But likely the most effective solution to persisting residue is building up your soil’s health. No-till and cover crops can both help feed soil microbes and create an environment that aids in residue breakdown.

Have you overcome problems with residue breakdown in your no-till system? Leave a comment below and share your keys to success.

For more information on how to successfully manage residue, visit the Residue Management section on the No-Till Farmer website.