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 Farmer editors caught up with several strip-tillers to solicit residue management advice. Here’s what they had to share.

1. Consider the Corn Head

Farmers and manufacturers agree that proactive residue management can start as early as harvest. Farmers and manufacturers agree that proactive residue management can start as early as harvest. West Brooklyn, Ill., strip-tiller Dave Delhotal 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.”

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2. Consider Standing Stalk Height

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.”  

Stillman Valley, Ill., no-tiller and strip-tiller Cade Bushnell has had instances where the shadow line from a piece of corn residue crossed the row, stunted the corn and made it a weed. High winds have also blown residue over the row, and strip-till gives Bushnell a “second chance” to move that residue off the seedbed.

The row units on his strip-till rig and 16-row Deere 1760 no-till planter are set up nearly the same for residue management, with both featuring Dawn’s floating trashwheels. Bushnell says he likes the setup because the row units move residue rather than blend it into the strip.

“I can do everything right, but if I don’t keep the residue away from the corn, I’m gambling,” he says. “I’ve had corn plants that were two collars behind because there is residue around them. In the right year that may not make any difference in yield. But in the wrong year it could make a big difference.”

3. Vertical Tilling

On some of his best performing acreage where yields close in on 260 bushels per acre, Walnut, Ill., strip-tiller Kevin Kennedy has yet to figure out how to handle heavy corn-on-corn residue solely with the strip-till bar.

Although he admits it may detract slightly from the status of a “pure” strip-tiller, Kennedy has hit on a management system that has been very effective.
To help size and bury residue on his 3,200-acre operation, Kennedy runs a tillage pass with a Salford I5100 vertical tillage tool on the heaviest residue before building fall strips.

“On some tighter clays, we don’ t have to do any fall tillage, only strip-tilling,” says Kennedy. “But, with some of our heavy soils, we have to work it once with the vertical tillage tool, to bury the trash because it’s too much to handle. “In that environment, this tool will leave the soil nice and black and lay it flat and then we can come out with the strip-till bar and lay the fertilizer in strips. This way, in the spring we can just roll in right away and plant.”

However, others suggest vertical tillage has its limitations.

“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.”

4. Refreshing the Strip

Delhotal, who uses a 16-row SoilWarrior strip-till rig, 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.”

Although he’ s very pleased with the system he’s using now, Kennedy hopes to examine the possibility of just running a spring refreshing pass on strips to see if that is adequate to handle residue. He’s run a few tests with a single pass, but he’s still uncertain about the difference two passes would make.

“We’re doing tests with just completely strip-till on continuous corn where we saw 252 bushel corn. We made spring strips on it and just planted," says Kennedy. "We didn’t have good uniformity of emergence, and I think the final stands suffered a bit. However, if we could get all the strips made in the fall and come back to freshen them up in the spring it might not be as big of a problem, but right now that’s an unknown to me.”

5. Selecting Seed 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.”