Agronomy Library > Event & Field Reports

Residue Managment Benefits
Author: Reduced Tillage LINKAGES
Date Created: March 26, 2002
Last Reviewed: February 22, 2007

Plant residues are a precious resource in reduced tillage, providing enrichment of soil organic matter, moisture and physical characteristics, microhabitats for crop seedlings, and reduced weed germination.

Good residue management exploits these benefits:

  • Fit the combine-harvester with a straw/chaff spreader
  • Spread straw and chaff evenly
  • Harrow the straw in the fall or spring before seeding

The key to harrowing straw: 

Speed of the tractor-sufficient to spread the straw evenly without bunching

  • Timing-spring generally, or fall depending on the specific situation
  • Dry soils provide better medium for straw handling

Factors that affect residue management:

  • Crop type-heavy crops providing more straw are a positive factor
  • Width of cut-affects the spread pattern; aim for an even spread
  • Stubble height-tall stubble or alternate height stubble increases moisture retention and snow trapping
  • Straight cut vs. swathed-straight cut may give higher stubble; swath may give more straw
  • Straw quantity-some crops produce more straw than others; canola mustard, short vine pea and lentils produce less straw and it tends to break down easily
  • Conventional vs. rotary combine-rotary produces shorter straw and may not require chopping
  • Straw choppers and spreaders-under high yield wide swath conditions, original equipment choppers and spreaders are often inadequate
  • Chaff spreaders-chaff spreading is essential

Farmer experience: (4 farmers share their experiences)

  • Farmer A uses a 50 ft Flexi-Coil heavy harrow with a 360 hp tractor in the spring. According to this farmer, fall harrowing creates problems at seeding.
  • Farmer B bales the straw, which he takes to a feedlot, and stubble grazes livestock.
  • Farmer C uses an air blowing system on the combine to spread the chaff.
  • Farmer D blows the chaff into a high dump silage wagon trailing behind the combine.