Residue, a Love Hate Relationship!

Residue, a Love Hate Relationship!

One of the Most Overlooked Management Steps

As some areas of the province have started harvest, others are patiently waiting on the weather to come around before they even turn a wheel. Some fields are off and the wheat is already in, however, the same problems are occurring which seem to happen year after year; poor residue distribution! I realize crops with low amounts of residue such are dry edible beans or very short soybeans make it challenging to spread the residue the entire width of the header. Some do better than others in these low residue situations but I am more or less referring to nice tall standing soybeans where the residue did not spread the entire cutting width.

High amount of residue behind combine
Low amount of residue at edge of the header

When we talk about grabbing the “low hanging fruit”, properly spreading residue is often overlooked. Having residue evenly spread across the field will result in better seed placement, more even emergence, increased winter survivability and more effective fusarium head blight control. Increased FHB is the greatest risk when planting into poorly distributed residue. Poorly spread residue will create moisture differences across the field. There will be areas with high moisture (more residue) and there will be areas with low moisture (less residue). This will result in uneven emergence, if the the plants do not emerge at the same time, the risk for FHB increases because of uneven head emergence and pollination. This makes it very difficult to properly stage the field for an effective FHB application and you will not get the full value of your T3 fungicide.

Even Residue Distribution
Uneven Residue Distribution

When you start harvesting and notice the area behind the combine has higher amounts of residue and you are struggling to spread the entire width of the header, there are a couple things to look at. First, ensure your chopper and stationary knives are in good shape. Dull knives will not properly cut residue and will take more power to process crop material thus decreasing the overall performance of the machine. Secondly, if you can, try adjust the bats on the spinner or veins on the tailboard to get an acceptable spread pattern. Some of the newer machines have in-cab adjustments; play with these adjustments until you are satisfied with the job it is making. Depending on machine, a cross wind can greatly influence the spread pattern. I know this isn’t always possible but changing the direction of travel to compensate for wind can help immensely. I know harvest is a very busy time and with rain delays across the province, things are going to happen very fast once the wheels start turning. If you are a serious wheat grower and strive to do a good job at establishing wheat in the fall, please take the time and make the necessary adjustments if you aren’t already doing so. These small adjustments can greatly help manage residue. If you make the adjustments and you are still fighting with poorly distributed residue either look at upgrading to an aftermarket residue spreading system or you need a smaller head. I often say, a properly performing combine is your greatest asset when it comes to establishing a winter wheat crop.

Hair-pinned residue resulting in poor seed placement

Managing Wheel Tracks

Depending on where you are located in the province, some soils are getting quite saturated with recent rainfall events. When the weather breaks, it will not take long for the soybeans to dry down which is great, however the ground will not be in ideal shape for combine, grain cart, truck and wagon traffic. If establishing wheat is the main goal once the soybeans come off then do your best to limit the field traffic. Check tire pressures to ensure the tires are at the correct operating pressure and not over inflated. It does not matter what drill you have or how many weights you can fit on the drill frame, if the field is marked up bad enough and if the soil is conducive to compaction, it is going to be very challenging to properly plant wheat into the compressed wheel tracks. Conventional drills are going to have more of a challenge compare to no-till drills, however no-till drills may get it planted into the wheel track but can still leave a slot with the wheat seed exposed. I am a big fan of no-till wheat however, depending on field conditions, sometimes a light tillage pass may be necessary to help alleviate the tread marks just enough so that wheat can be planted into these areas. A vertical tillage tool generally works best however some have used cultivators in the past and had good luck, just be careful that the harrows on the back don’t cause the residue to ball up and make a mess.

Tire tracks due to damp field conditions will pose a big challenge for many this fall

About the Author

Alex Zelem is a CCA-ON certified Agronomist with C&M Seeds. He farms in Huron County. Alex attended Ridgetown College and when he graduated attended Olds College in Alberta to gain a different perspective from Ontario. He has been working in agriculture since 2013.