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Agriculture Technology Podcast Ep. 151: Residue Management

3 Sep 2021

Residue management.

You might be thinking - how is this related to agriculture technology?

This episode is focused on an important discussion about residue management - which can be overlooked in farming practices.

Join Tony Kramer, RDO Agronomist and host of the Agriculture Technology Podcast, as he shares his insights, learnings, and expertise related to residue management.

You can learn more about solutions from your local dealer or RDO Equipment Co. Visit our website at


Additional Resources for our listeners:

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View the entire episode transcript here:

Tony Kramer: Hi, I'm Tony Kramer with RDO Equipment Co.

Welcome back to another episode of the podcast. This is episode number 151, and today we are going to be talking about residue management.

Now I know some of you may be saying residue management. How does technology play into residue management, or how does residue management play into technology being this is the Agriculture Technology podcast? I will start out by saying this isn't necessarily technology based, but this is information that I wanted to share. It's information that I think quite frequently gets overlooked in the farming practice, and that is residue management.

Now when we think about starting a cropping season, generally we think spring of the year. In the northern states where we get freeze or snow, we think ground thawing, things like that, soil drying out. I know other parts of the United States, other parts of the world, they don't go through the cold weather. They're farming a lot more often, but one of the things I think we fail to think about quite often is when does that cropping season actually start?

Does it start at your secondary tillage, or your spring tillage pass, or your pre-planting tillage pass, or does it start when we put the seed in the ground? When does that cycle start? Here's where I think we often overlook this. In my mind, the cycle for next year, next cropping season starts at the time of harvest this year. That's where we talk about residue management. Not just residue management from a perspective of tillage but residue management right at the combine.

When that combine is harvesting that crop, we are preparing that field for the next cropping season. Again, in the colder climates you got to wait until next year. In the warmer climates maybe it's only another month to wait or maybe you'll be back here next week planting the next crop. Residue management, talking from a more corn, soybean, wheat kind of a commodity crop perspective with combines, we're going to specifically dive into a little more corn but also soybeans and wheat also play a factor in this.

When we think about that corn making the pass, what are we doing to best prepare that seed bed for next year or not even next year, next cropping season or next crop rotation? What are we doing? Are we thinking about that as we are in the combine? Now the first thing I want to start out with is, of course, soybeans and wheat, it's going to be different because of how it's harvested but with corn.

We have an option of stock rolls. We have an option of a stock master chopping corn head or a non-chopping corn head. All of that plays a factor in how this residue breaks down, how it becomes plant available, how we can till it or even in no-till situations. What does that residue look like if we're not going to till it? Some of the things I think we need to think about is during harvest, what stock roll is right for me?

I'm not going to be the one to tell you that this stock roll is best in this situation. You need to decide that on your own farming operation every farming operation is just a little bit unique. We like to share options that are out there, but we want you guys to make that decision on what's right for your operation. We talk about stock roll differences. One of them being just with John Deere alone, we have three stock roll options.

We got the opposed stock roll, we have the intermeshing stock roll, and now we have the new RowMax Chopping Stock Roll. Each one of those processes the residue just a little bit different. If you stick with that traditional opposed stock roll and a non-chopping corn head, you're looking at 12 inches plus in pieces of residue that are laying out there in the field or they're still intact on the ground, the root ball. Essentially, the plant is still standing there after stripping the head off.

Now we go to the intermeshing stock rolls. There we're going to get a little bit of breakdown. We're going to get some of more the 6 to 12 inch or smaller pieces within that type of a stock roll. Then we go to a chopping stock roll. That's really designed or the reason for that or need for that is someone that wants to process their residue down to that 3 to 6 inches, 6 to 12 inches but they don't necessarily want to chop it up like a lawnmower.

They don't want to mulch it. They want to just break it down so it's open, it breaks down easier in the off season. It returned some of those nutrients back to the soil and allow it to become plant available. Now again, there is no right or wrong way to do this because then the other option is to be looking at these stock rolls with or without a stock master chopping corn head.

There's a lot of different options but I think it's something that we really need to think about as we're making that corn pass. Now that's at the front of the combine. Like I said, soybeans, wheat cutting with a cutting platform, a hydro flex head, that's going to be a little bit different. You don't have the opportunity. You're running that residue through the machine. Now let's keep on that same track and think about what's behind the combine.

The next thing I think that often gets overlooked is what are we using for--? What does our combine have for a residue chopper out back? Are we using it sometimes in wheat? Maybe we're going to drop the straw. We're going to cut low up front. We're going to drop the strout back. We're going to bail it for some other need, or are we chopping it? Are we chopping and spreading completely?

One thing that I've seen a lot in many different areas is we always think about what's upfront on the combine as far as head width, but we don't think about what is behind us. Taking that into account, we have many different residue chopper options. We have the traditional manual vain tailboard. We have the deluxe PowerCast tailboard, and then we have the premium PowerCast tailboard.

Now don't quiz me on the new options. John Deere has made some changes and there's some very unique options as far as what you're looking for, for residue management. Actually, you're able to dial it in a little bit more for your needs. What you're looking to get out of your residue management or your chopper, but don't only look at what that chopper does. Also take a look at what you have out front of the combine. What size head do you have?

Looking back to that manual vein tailboard, that really was designed to spread no more than a width of, say, 35 feet back when we had those 35 foot flex Drapers-- The 35 foot flex heads. The hydro flex heads. We can also get 35 foot flex Drapers but it was designed for those 30, 35 foot, maybe a 40 foot head on the front of that machine. That is all the further that is really meant to spread.

If you're getting into the 40 foot heads, the 45 foot heads, now we've got 50 foot heads are becoming very common. You need some sort of a powered tailboard to distribute that residue across the entire cut width. Now if we're not thinking about that and we're not doing that, if we're just running manual vein or maybe we're not maybe we have a deluxe PowerCast tailboard but we're not spinning fast enough to distribute that residue across that entire 40 foot cut or what have you, that is also going to affect what is done or how the soil changes over time, whether it's--

Again, maybe not as big of a concern when it comes to the southern territory or southern areas, the warmer climates but I know in the northern climates, when we're dealing with the overwintering and soil warming in the spring, having that even residue distribution makes a big deal, makes a big difference. If we've got strips in the field, we're going to have areas where there is residue, and we're going to have areas where there isn't residue, and each area is going to warm up differently come spring time or come fall.

What chopper you have on the back of your combine is definitely something to think about and then what width, your head. Don't jump on going out and getting a new 745 flex Draper used at this point. I guess we would be going with an RD 45 F. Don't jump on the wagon of getting a new head upfront but not looking at what we have out back. If we just have a manual vein tailboard out back, we need to think about that along with what we're doing upfront.

Now all of this, of course, comes into play when we talk tillage practices. How are you going to incorporate that residue? That's the other thing to think about or are you not going to-- Are you no till? Are you minimum till? Are you strip till? There's all different ways to do this but it's something that we need to think about it. I'll take a quote out of John Deere's book, we need to start treating residue as an asset, not an afterthought.

That's one of the things that led me to record this podcast is that I do truly believe that oftentimes we think about residue as an afterthought, we're not thinking about how it's going to change. Now there are some people that do think about it, and they say, "Gosh, we need to get that residue broke down," or, "We need to get the soil black," or whatever it may be. All of those pieces come into play, the quality or not necessarily quality, but what do your stock rolls look like? Do they need to be replaced?

Stock rolls aren't just for the feeding of the crop but also, they play a big part in processing that residue. What does your chopper look like? Are you engaging the chopper bank, the knife bank for the residue? Are you not engaging the knife bank? Then the head width, what are we cutting, and are we able to spread that residue across that entire cut width to make sure we're getting even distribution, spreading that out?

Also, the next thing that comes into play is John Deere has a feature where if there's any wind and you're dealing with wind compensation, we can speed up and slow down different spinners to be able to compensate for that wind. We need to think about that when we're distributing that residue behind the combine. Those are just a few things to think about. One of the things, real quick, I wanted to add in here is just some numbers.

When we talk nutrient management, we talk about residue management, the residue that is harvested but left on the field, it holds-- Again, this is generally speaking, it holds a certain level of nutrients in it. Now those nutrients, of course, need to be-- The residue needs to be broke down within the soil and those nutrients need to become plant available.

It just puts it into perspective of let's think about residue as an asset not an afterthought.

According to University of Nebraska-Lincoln, when you harvested corn residue or one tonne of dry harvested corn residue, we've got-- Again, every situation is going to be a little bit different but we've got 17 pounds of N, four pounds of P205, 50 pounds of K2O and three pounds of sulfur. Again, that's per tonne of dry harvested residue. Now soybeans, something similar or a little different on the potassium but we've got 17 pounds of nitrogen, three pounds of phosphorus, 13 pounds of potassium, and two pounds of sulfur.

Then we go down to wheat residue. We've got 11 pounds nitrogen, three pounds phosphorus, and 15 pounds potassium and two pounds sulfur. Again, that is numbers right there when you talk about crop removal in nutrient management. I don't want to dive too deep into the weeds on all of this but it's just something to get you thinking. Here we are September 1, September 2 timeframe getting into harvest.

I know a lot of areas are already harvesting or already have harvested but think about that as you're sitting in the combine, what are you doing with your residue management to make a difference for next crop season, whether that be a week away or whether that be four months away? There's definitely some thought that needs to go into it and it needs to jive along with all the rest of your practices. Tillage is not the only thing that creates that seed bed, your residue management plays a very vital role in that, moving right into planting.

Hopefully, this was beneficial for you listeners. Hopefully, it gets you thinking about your residue management, what you need to do from the front of the combine all the way to the back, and then including our tillage practices. If you've got any questions about any of this, the stock rolls that I talked about, the chopper options I talked about, stop in at your local John Deere dealership, your local RDO equipment company dealership, we'll talk to you, we'll get your questions answered.

Hopefully it'll, again, just get you thinking about what you're doing with residue management on your operation. With that, thanks again for listening, and we'll catch you on the next one. Thanks again for tuning in to another episode. If you have questions about the technology and products discussed or have ideas about future episodes, please leave them in the comments below. You can also subscribe to RDO's YouTube channel and be in the know about each episode or tune in on any streaming service. Thanks again for listening.


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