Residue management begins in the fall. Expanding that further, the success to no-till planting, with or without cover crops, begins in the fall. That's the point Steve Gauck made recently while talking about how to improve soil health and succeed in systems that promote healthy soils. Gauck is an agronomist with Beck's hybrids, based near Greensburg, Ind.
"You need to spread that residue evenly in the fall," he says. Don't just assume because you have a newer combine or straw chopper that the residue will be spread evenly across the width of the head. It may take adjustments or changes in settings or even attachments to distribute the residue as evenly as you like.
If the residue isn't evenly distributed, then it won't dry out evenly in the spring, Gauck says. As a rule, no-till warms up slower. That's why no-tillers survive on patience, waiting a day or more after the neighbors with conventional till start rolling. If the residue isn't consistent across the width of the pass, it may mean waiting even longer, he says.
Some people run vertical tillage tools in the spring. Nearly every company in the machinery business offers one. Some are made more like disks while some are designed to do less tillage. They are generally run one to two inches deep at speeds of 7 to 10 miles per hour.
"The purpose of that tool is not to get moisture out of the soil just before planting," Gauck insists. "Several people are trying to use it for that purpose. Gauck contends that if you run big equipment over the soil, even if you are tilling to a shallow depth, you will still run the risk of creating soil compaction. The jury seems to be out amongst university specialists as to how much risk of compaction could develop from such a pass.
What those machines are good for is chopping residue in the fall and beginning the breakdown process, Gauck says. There are also biological products you can add to speed up breakdown. The goal in the spring should be to wait until a uniform seedbed dries out on its own.