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Residue Management – Turning Trash into Cash!

October 7, 2021

Jim Porter

Regional Agronomy Sales Manager-NE, SD


by Jim Porter, Regional Sales Agronomist NE

Residues left behind after harvest can provide many benefits:

  • Reduced erosion of the soil from wind and water.
  • Increased protection from winter/summer temperature extremes.
  • Improved microbiology activity leading to increased soil health.
  • Increase potential soil organic matter levels
  • Recycling nutrients for future crops, more than organic carbon source, recovering more NPK $ value through proper digestion

As harvest concludes every year, the questions begin to arise about what to do with all the residue (or trash as some like to call it).  The residue left behind in the field can potentially have a negative effect on crops planted the following year, especially in Minimum-Tillage operations such as No-Till or Strip-Till.  Some of the challenges we can face with larger biomass from higher-yielding crops and accumulation of heavy residue in reduced tillage operations are:

  • Compromised seedbed with erratic seed spacing, planting depth, and delayed emergence.
  • Additional costs associated with ‘trash moving’ equipment being added to the planter and plugged or improperly functioning planter mechanisms.
  • Poor digestion and nutrients that remain tied up.
  • Loss of Nitrogen efficiency, robbing energy and nitrogen from the next growing crop due to poor digestion
  • Increased weed pressure and weed seed bank.
  • Increased disease pressure and potential for pathogen
  • Increase soil living insects (e.g., wireworms, grubs, cutworms, armyworms, and rootworms).

How do we maintain the benefits of having residue in our fields while limiting the negative effects that residue can leave us with?

Some plans to reduce residue just don’t fit.  Grazing cattle on the residue can have regenerative benefits, but it’s not for everyone. Especially with some minimal tillage strategies and farms that are not set up to manage livestock.  Mechanically removing residue (baling) or even burning off residue can be costly and have long-term detriments to soil health negating the opportunities for holding soil and reducing erosion as well as potential nutritional benefits for both soil biology and for future plants.  Perhaps a supplemental approach to residue decomposition can be the winning ticket, like paying your “carbon penalty” with added nitrogen.  Although soil biology needs the extra nitrogen to close the gap on Carbon to Nitrogen (C:N), studies can often contradict this need.  High rates of Nitrogen (30-60#N) did not prove to be an economical way to break down corn residues in no-till fields, according to a two-year study done by Iowa State University.

So, then what?  What options do you have left?  What other approaches have we not considered if some of the common practices are still in question and not manageable?

We at QLF Agronomy talk a lot about Nitrogen Use Efficiency (NUE) and the benefits that applying a low pH, plant-based Carbon source, like L-CBF BOOST™, can achieve more yields at lower nitrogen rates.  By working with biology rather than interfering this same concept not only lends itself to more Return on Investment (ROI) opportunities during normal liquid Nitrogen applications made in season, but can also at the same time be an affordable tool for more efficient residue digesting, recycling, and nutrient recovery.  Consider an additional BOOST application specifically for residue.  Not only can this translate into positive ROI for the next crop, but also lend a hand in improved soil health long term through more complete residue management.

The following are some of the highlighted outcomes from a study completed at Arise Research & Discovery in Martinsville, Illinois over a two-year span.  The study was designed for comparing residue breakdown, but in addition to proving advantages in digestion by double digits, we discovered there were more results we could learn from.  The study gave us a glimpse into how BOOST primed the nitrogen cycle and captured more soluble Organic Nitrogen.  A significant difference between applications made using UAN alone vs. UAN with a 10% inclusion [1] of L-CBF BOOST™ was achieved.

[1]10% inclusion is achieved by removing 10% of the volume of UAN and replacing it with the same amount of L-CBF BOOST™

e.g., 10 gal UAN vs. 9 gal UAN + 1 gal L-CBF BOOST™.

In summary, the Arise Data supported,

  • 11% improvement in the physical decomposition of the residue in 8 weeks.
  • Over a 2X increase in the amount of soluble Organic Nitrogen captured.
  • 60#/A less Nitrogen required the following year to raise the same 200 bu. of Corn.

Today we are looking at higher fertilizer costs and the opportunity to capitalize couldn’t be more attractive.  Not only with short-term gains but also realizing more longer-term benefits.  Your residue that contains valuable nutrients that only biology can unlock could be supplementing and/or replacing some higher-cost fertilizer inputs.  Having a residue management strategy is a good idea today and a greater strategy looking forward.  Perhaps you should consider a program with BOOST.  One simple suggestion is to incorporate a small amount of UAN 28-32% between 2 – 5 gal per acre and pair that with 2 – 3 gal per acre of L-CBF BOOST 4-0-3-2S.  If you planned to add biology, and want to give that biological (bugs) a better fighting chance, a food source (energy and nitrogen) is a smart addition to better utilizing your preferred biological source.  Be sure to apply this mixture with as much water as you’ll willing to carry to the field for coverage.  The returned benefits for the investment and your time, are too long to ignore.  Overcoming what could be looked at as challenges before, instead could be viewing your trash more like tied up opportunities.  Let us help you cash in on a healthier future, give your residue management plan a big BOOST!

Call your QLF Agronomy Rep today for details.


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