Turn Residue Problems into a Solution
Turn Residue Problems into a Solution
Tough corn crowns are a headache for growers and processors. Breaking them down by spring turns them into nutrients crops need.
Residue management is all about striking the right balance. Leaving residue on fields over the winter is acknowledged to be a sustainable farming practice with many benefits – namely reducing water and wind erosion and trapping and holding moisture in the soil. But without tillage to turn stovers and stalks into the soil to accelerate decomposition, residue management becomes more important.
Compounding the problem is the fact that modern corn hybrids are tougher and take longer to break down, and higher planting density means even more residue. Residue is also an issue for growers of other crops including potatoes, wheat, alfalfa, and cotton.
Breaking down the residue quickly between crops is the answer. The natural decomposition process does eventually break down residue, but not fast enough for modern cropping systems. Agro-K’s Bio-Mulch feeds soil microbes with a unique blend of nutrients and fermenta
tion enzymes and metabolites designed to increase existing populations of cellulose-digesting microbes and speed up decomposition.
“Bio-Mulch provides the food source needed by the specific microbes that break down lignin,” says Rob Ford, Midwest Sales Manager at Agro-K. “It’s a nutrient solution for the microbes that supercharges their growth. We feed them and increase the population, and they do the work faster.”
Early Breakdown Means More Available Nitrogen
A big benefit is that faster decomposition of residue releases nitrogen and other nutrients into the soil and plant available when it is needed in the spring. So much so, that growers can reduce the amount of applied nitrogen, reducing costs and helping better meet environmental regulations.
“Normally, without a product like Bio-Mulch that accelerates the process, residue finally breaks down in the middle of the summer, which is exactly when you don’t want it to,” says Dave Bloxham, Technical Sales Representative at Agro-K. “It provides a big release of nitrogen at a time when you really don’t want it or need it. Bio-Mulch breaks the residue down earlier and more evenly. We’ve done SAP analysis that shows 20 to 30% more nitrogen in the leaf on Bio-Mulch treated acres compared to untreated, and the nutrients are released more consistently.”
Chad Ralphs, Manager of CSC Farms near Jerome, Idaho, says he has reduced his nitrogen applications on potatoes after trialing Bio-Mulch. “The firstyear I put it on about 300 acres of sweet corn, which produces even more stubble,” he says. “During the following year we saw a little bit of corn material, but it did a good job of breaking down the sweet corn. Then we studied petiole samples and saw a real jump in nitrogen compared with the untreated acres. So, I didn’t pump any nitrogen on those Bio-Mulch acres.
“The remaining corn crowns are much smaller. They’ve had the mass taken out of them, and they’re brittle, so they tend to break up from the fans instead of dropping through the air flow.”
Bloxham says research on potatoes shows nitrogen application can be cut about 25% when Bio-Mulch is used. Along with that cost savings, growers can also save a tillage pass in the field, because the residue is easily broken up.
Breaking down residue quickly offers multiple additional benefits:
- Reduces costly dockage from processors because of broken or clogged equipment, the need for manual sorting, or loss of the entire batch from contamination. Potato growers, for instance, cannot have corn crowns in the batch; they are considered foreign material.
- Less residue on fields in the spring means soil warms and becomes friable more quickly, allowing earlier planting.
- Seed placement is more consistent, and increased contact with the soil means better germination and higher yields.
- Less residue improves herbicide activity.
Because Bio-Mulch doesn’t contain living organisms, it is easy to store and has a long shelf life, Ford explains. It can be applied at the same time as herbicides such as glyphosate, 2,4-D and dicamba. Normally, the product is simply mixed with water and applied, but Ford says it can be impregnated on fall fertilizer or even applied by air to standing corn just before harvest. It leaves no harmful residue that would pose a problem for packers and has an excellent worker safety profile, he says.