Don’t let your fields stop working post-harvest
Jul 07 2022
A Cost-Effective Post-Harvest Residue Management Solution
Summer is the best time to plan for fall – and not just harvest. A strategic plan for residue management is an investment in the next year’s crop yield, and it starts with managing your post-harvest residue, or crop trash.
While any grower would like higher crop yields, no one wants the higher crop trash that follows. Crop trash can provide many benefits, like improving soil health and reducing erosion, but it’s a major inconvenience when planting in the spring. After all, decomposition is a lengthy process.
As tilling and burning become increasingly discouraged for post-harvest residue management, it’s time to explore other crop trash management options – not only for the sake of soil health, but for next year’s crop yield, and your farm’s overall revenue.
Invest in next year’s yield this fall by speeding up the decomposition of post-harvest residue, promoting warmer soil temperatures, and increasing the nutrient levels available in the soil by feeding and waking up soil microbes with a well-balanced, nutrient-rich meal.
Burning and Tilling Crop Trash Creates More Problems than Solutions
Burning and/or tilling post-harvest residue have some benefits. Both are quick to remove crop trash and help facilitate ground clearing and precision planting in the spring. Tilling can quickly put organic matter back into the ground and burning can be cost-effective.
Even with the benefits, significant cons exist with burning and tilling. Both practices increase the chance of erosion and runoff due to decreased soil health and quality.
Burning can lead to air quality issues. Nitrogen and sulfur are lost in combustion, and if the ash is not immediately tilled, phosphorus and potassium can be lost through erosion.
In general, tillage can be destructive to soil structure. Tilling releases carbon in soil disposition, breaks up microbiomes, and reduces overall microbial population – thus negatively impacting the soil microbiome and soil health. If a grower tills in the fall, the aeration triggers increased biological activity, resulting in rapid decomposition. This means crops in the year to come will reap very little of the nutrients left in the crop trash come spring. Plus, tilling is often expensive with soaring diesel prices and high investments in equipment and labor.
Tilling and burning ultimately do not deliver the best long-term, sustainable solutions to manage residue.
The Pros and Cons of Leaving Crop Trash
The most cost-effective way to manage your post-harvest residue is to leave the residue. Leaving crop trash can prevent wind and water erosion. Soil traps carbon and releases it back into the soil upon decomposition, allowing nutrient (NPK) residue from this year’s crop to be recycled back into the soil.
Leftover crop trash needs heat to speed up the decomposition process, but typical fall and winter conditions do not support the temperatures needed to break down crop trash. If there’s uneven or excess residue in the spring it can be hard to plant without implementing tillage. Crop residue can also clog equipment and delay warmer soil temperatures. In a worst-case scenario, crop residue can host diseases or undesired vegetation.
Leaving the crop trash to naturally decompose on its own isn’t a viable option either. Growers need a way to leave post-harvest residue and a solution to speed up the decomposition process.
Reduce Crop Trash and Increase the Available Nutrients for Next Year’s Crops
Residue breakdown is controlled by biological processes influenced by environment and soil conditions. Crop residue decomposition, for example, is highly controlled by soil moisture and temperature.
When paired with a burndown herbicide, PhycoTerra® can leverage the microbial community to speed up residue decomposition. Soil microbes need a high carbon food source to wake up and begin decomposing crop trash.
Minimal application of 1-2 quarts per acre of our carbon product feeds dormant, starving soil microbes. Once fed this superior carbon source, soil microbes wake up and break down crop trash. This mineralization process breaks down nutrients faster than nature, yet slow enough to be utilized by next season’s crops.
Effective post-harvest residue management isn’t the only benefit of PhycoTerra®. When applied to residue after harvest, this superior microbial food source can also increase soil temperatures up to 6 degrees Fahrenheit at planting the following spring.
Soil microbes also create healthy soil texture and structure that improves moisture storage and makes additional nutrients accessible to your crops in the following year. With an active soil microbiome, more of your organic or synthetic fertilizer can be available and utilized by your future crops – optimizing your overall investment. Soil health serves as the foundation for a successful season to generate higher ROI and increase revenue.
Using PhycoTerra® on your fields post-harvest is one way to benefit from improved soil health, also considered a regenerative agriculture practice, without the headache. In a recent wheat trial where PhycoTerra® was applied as a post-harvest residue management tool, the fields realized a 36% reduction in residue mass. PhycoTerra® is one of the highest ROI options for growers to consider in their residue management program. Growers can capture increased returns of $24 to $44 per acre from greater soil nutrient availability, $10 per acre from warmer soil at planting, and $17-22 per acre in savings from reduced tillage. Plus, farmers can save up to $10 per acre on reduced tillage carbon credits.
Get Your Fall Post-Harvest Residue Plan in Place Today
Managing the physical, chemical, and biological properties of soil is key to supporting current and future crops. There’s no longer a need to burn or till fields as a residue management practice.
By pairing PhycoTerra® with a post-harvest herbicidal burndown, you’ll increase the speed of decomposition for your crop residue while supporting soil health and your overall ROI.
The first step to a successful growing season next year is to learn about your field’s soil microbes today. Contact your local ag retailer today to make a residue management plan to support your soil microbiome health, future crops, and your bottom line.