Many continuous corn growers turn to tillage to help break down corn residue and reduce negative affects on the new crop, but a recent study from Pioneer Hi-Bred suggests that no-till farmers can manage residue and decrease the yield drag in continuous corn without hooking up the chisel plow.

Andy Heggenstaller, agronomy research manager with Pioneer Hi-Bred, says a four-year study near Columbia, MO, reviewed several methods for managing corn residue, but the one that proved most effective was removing a portion of the stover.

“Removing about half of the stover in a continuous, no-till corn system can have similar yield benefits as tillage or rotation with soybean,” he says. "Typically, residue from the previous crop negatively affects the new crop and this is magnified in no-till."

The study, which was published in a recent edition of Crop Insights by Pioneer, looked at five methods for managing stover:

  • Fall N application
  • Fall stalk chopping
  • Partial stover bale and removal in the fall
  • Row cleaners used at spring planting
  • No management for the control group

Haggenstaller says the first three methods reduced residue by 9%, 16% and 53%. Row cleaning didn’t remove the residue, merely pushed it from the row area. The only effective treatment, bale and removal, increased yields by 16% compared to the control group.

Removing the stover resulted in increased populations and plants that were more vigorous, in part because less nitrogen (N) was tied up by decomposing stover. This result suggests that no-till growers may be able to reduce N fertilizer when some stover is removed from the field.

Haggenstaller cautioned against interpreting the results too broadly, particularly when looking at methods that didn’t perform as well as expected. Chopping stalks in the fall and row cleaners at planting are common residue management practices that have delivered results in other studies, particularly in northern areas where the season for residue decomposition is shorter.  

“Geography is very important when managing residue in continuous corn,” he said. “But if taking some of the stover off in no-till continuous corn delivers a benefit in central Missouri, it (also) would benefit Iowa or southern Minnesota.”