SELECTION STRATEGY. Streator, Ill., strip-tiller Eric Sass, tries to manage heavy residue with carefully planning out his varieties on continuous corn ground. On fields where he anticipates heavy residue, he’ll select a shorter variety so he’ll have less residue to contend with at harvest.

From implementing shredding corn heads to running an extra vertical tillage pass, strip-tillers employ a number of different techniques to deal with heavy residue on continuous corn. As yields climb higher and tougher hybrids decompose slower, battling buildup while still enjoying the biological benefits of residue is an important item on strip-tillers’ to do lists. 

Approaches to residue management vary regionally. Farmers agree that there are no one-size-fits-all practices. However, across soil-types, climate and geography there are some considerations worth making.

Strip-Till Strategies editors caught up with several strip-till farmers and strip-till manufacturers at the 2015 Farm Progress Show in Decatur, Ill., to solicit residue management advice. Here’s what they had to share.

1. Considering the Corn Head

Farmers and manufacturers agree that proactive residue management can start as early as harvest. Kevin Kuehn, product support manager for Environmental Tillage Systems, says that the right rollers and headers can give a strip-tiller the jump they need to properly manage heavy residue.

“It starts with the combine,” he says. “Mechanically sizing the residue with something like 360 Yield Center’s Chain Roll or Geringhoff and Calmer corn heads is a good first consideration. The better broken up the residue is at the start, the faster it will decompose.”

2. Placing the Residue

West Brooklyn, Ill., strip-tiller Dave Delhotal also feels that the right corn head can be a game changer, but he adds that it’s just as important to make sure the residue, however it’s cut, ends up at the base of the plant.

“We’re using Calmer rolls now because they chop residue up into a nice confetti,  but they also leave it right at the base of the plant,” he says. “Just a regular knife rolled corn head will leave those long pieces of stalk laying out.

“Sometimes those pieces will get grabbed up by coulters on a strip-till rig and thrown back on top of the strip. To make sure we are spreading the chaff evenly, we use Deere’s PowerCast tailboard rather than just the standard fins.”

3. Leaving the Stalk Tall

For Jerry Baysinger, who strip-tills 3,000 acres near Bruning, Neb., leaving his stalks standing is essential.

“Standing stalks keep the residue from blowing around,” he says. “During the spring of 2014 in Nebraska, we had drifts of residue 2 or 3 feet high because of strong winds and we need to prevent that. Standing stalks also catch and hold the snow that can often be blown into the ditches. If we keep it on the field, it’s free moisture, and when it melts it helps the decomposition process too.”  

4. Vertical Tilling

Curt Davis of Kuhn Krause says that some strip-tillers with especially heavy residue have found success with vertical tillage.

“For mechanically sizing the residue, we’ve seen some of our customers use the Excelerator vertical tillage system,” says Davis. “It’s a chance to cut down residue and get some soil mixed in. Then you can come back in and make the strips afterward.”

However, some still feel the practice is too aggressive to be considered conservation tillage, but strip-tillers seem to agree that under certain circumstances, vertical tillage is worth some thought.

“Vertical tillage has its place, but it’s a very small place in my opinion,” says Baysinger. “In the fields this spring where I saw full-width sizing of crop residue, there wasn’t much wind erosion, instead there still was water erosion after heavy rainfall.

“The excess rain water took crop residue and moved it into to the road ditches. On the other hand, vertical tillage can make a wonderful seedbed. It just depends on Mother Nature.”

5. Refreshing the Strip

Delhotal, who uses a 16-row SoilWarrior, says that building his strips in the fall, then coming back for a refreshing pass in the spring has been crucial to his residue program. 

“In the fall, we can have a big cog wheel incorporating what little residue is in the center rather than pushing it off to the side,” he says. “Over the winter, residue blows around and our strip will get covered again, but we can clean it back up with a two-pass system. Then we have a really nice strip to plant right into and we don’t even need to run row cleaners on our planter.”

6. Selecting Varieties

For Streator, Ill., strip-tillers Dave and Eric Sass, if the varieties are part of the problem, they can be part of the solution as well.

“If we know we’re going to move some acreage to corn-on-corn, we try to plan ahead with our varieties,” says Eric. “If we go with a variety that’s not as tall and heavy, we’ll have less material to contend with.

“We look at maturity too. This year, the field we knew was going to be corn-on-corn next year, we tried to put a shorter season maturity plant there — that way, we can get it harvested quicker and give the residue a bit longer to break down before we go back in to build strips.”

7. Baling Residue 

Although many would see removing corn residue from a field as sacrilege, if enough of a surplus exists, there’s an interesting out-of-the-box idea. Wayne Buck, sales manager of Hiniker, says that if a market exists nearby, a strip-tiller may want to run the numbers on baling and selling the residue.

“Many farmers want to hang on to all their residue, but if you have some ground with not much erosion potential and you do the math — you may be able to take half or more off there without really changing much,” he says. “Some of our customers with cattle or hogs put their corn residue in windrows and bale it.

 “If you have a market for the bale like a nearby ethanol plant, a dairy farm or a feed lot, it might be worth considering. You might not make much money on the residue, but you won’t have to fight it when you’re planting, plus, how much more does it cost to run a vertical tillage pass? That’s not free either.”