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Handle Residue Piles Before You Till or Plant

Handle Residue Piles Before You Till or Plant
Winter left residue piles where water accumulated and moved residue.

You don't have to drive very far on a country road before you find a field where either corn residue or soybean residue from last year's crop has been washed up in a gully, along the fence, along a waterway of in another low area.

You should figure on dealing with that residue accumulation as soon as conditions allow, Tony Vyn, a Purdue University Extension agronomist told Extension educators recently in a conference call about spring planting conditions.

Too much winter: Rains washing soil and residue left these piles along gullies where water ran over winter.

Some who ran vertical tillage, disked last fall or did some other operation that loosened residue are questioning if that was the right thing to do. Remember that this was an unusual winter, with near-record snowfall totals plus a big rain event over much of the state in later December.

Related: 12 Ways to Boost Cover Crop Performance

Even in no-till fields with nothing disturbed, residue and soil can move in areas where water concentrates in winters like this one. That's why soil conservation personnel typically recommend other practices with no-till, such as cover crops or adding conservation practices where water tends to concentrate.

One practice might be installing water and sediment control basins to help cut off the water flow down a long slope and let the water enter a pipe and run underground. However, as one farmer points out, if you install wascobs and don't change your tillage practices but stay with conventional or minimum tillage instead, you're making little progress. Soil can still move to the basins, collect there or leave the field in the tile line. You need a combination of practices to make it work.

Related: Soil Erosion Took Its Toll Over the Winter

How you handle piles of accumulated residue this spring may depend upon how severe the problem is. Remember, it is likely to be wetter under the residue than elsewhere. Vyn says heavy concentrations of residue will need to be addressed before you plant in that particular field.

Vertical tillage tools are designed to run fast and shallow, with the goal of cutting down on residue while leveling out the seedbed. Want to know more? Check out our free report 5 Tips You Need To Know About Vertical Tillage, for pointers on deciding if vertical tillage is right for you.

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