Residue management begins at crop harvest. The most important residue tool, the chopper, is attached to the back of the combine (Figure 1). As yields increase, so does the amount of remaining fodder or residue that needs to be managed to help obtain a perfect stand next spring. Many different tillage tools can help solve the problem, but more producers are using strip-till, conservation till, zone tillage or no-till. Extra equipment may be required on reduced tillage planters to move the residue aside to help achieve more accurate placement of fertilizer and seed. Benefits of good residue management include an increase in soil water infiltration, better water holding capacity of the soil, and reduced erosion.
Residue management starts with proper adjustment of the combine spreader prior to harvest. As combine widths increase, more crop material is brought from widths of 20 to 40 feet to the center of the machine, and then must be reapplied in an even layer back to the starting width by the combine’s chopper/spreader (Figure 2). Adjusting the fins and the chopper angle can make a significant difference in the way the mat of residue is spread out over the original cut width. Several after-market attachments are available to enhance residue management from the combine. The wider the header width, the more challenging redistribution becomes. For example, a 3-inch layer of residue in the center of the swath that tapers to none on the outside of the swath can result in problems when applying anhydrous ammonia or planting.
Performance may vary, from location to location and from year to year, as local growing, soil and weather conditions may vary. Growers should evaluate data from multiple locations and years whenever possible and should consider the impacts of these conditions on the grower’s fields.
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