The residue cover in no-till fields is essential when it comes to conserving water. The residue protects the soil surface, reducing crusting and soil moisture evaporation. When it comes to no-till planting, the key is to minimize the soil and residue disturbance.

1. Leave residue over the row. Too many producers move residue away from the row when planting, trying to make the seedbed warmer and drier during the cool part of the growing season. This isn’t necessary in a warm, dry spring, especially if drought conditions continue. Growers should focus instead on using residue to keep the soil cooler and wetter during the hot part of the growing season. By leaving the residue over the row while planting, soil moisture evaporation is reduced and the root zone is kept cooler for the entire season.

2. Use seeding disks to cut residue. When properly adjusted and working together, the sharp double disk seed furrow openers on planters can easily cut through the residue and soil to place the seeds. Running coulters in front of seeding disks often increases “hair pinning” of residue as the tillage of the coulters incorporates some of the residue into the seed zone. Planters can more effectively cut residue using the seeding disks, as the disks are sharper than most coulters on the market. In some situations, the coulters start pushing the residue down without cutting it and the seeding disks fold or “hair pin” the residue because they don’t have a firm soil surface to cut the residue. If hair pinning of the residue is a problem, increase the planting depth some to improve the residue cutting angle of the disks.

3. Provide uniform residue cover. Producers who did not uniformly spread their residue during the previous harvest could use residue movers to "even up" the residue and create a more uniform residue layer. However, they should not remove all residue from the row as soil moisture losses are higher from bare soil. If the residue cover is already uniform, such as in long-term no-till, residue movers can do more harm than good. In these cases, the movers break residue loose from the soil and some of the residue can then blow back over the row, creating non-uniform conditions. In addition, the emerging seedlings may leaf out under the residue and may have difficulty surviving.


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4. Add down-pressure springs and weight to ensure penetration. The residue of no-till, especially in hard, dry soil, requires down-pressure springs and extra weight (as necessary) on the planter to cut through and penetrate the soil to achieve the desired seeding depth. Enough down pressure should be on the row units to make sure that the depth gauging wheels are actually gauging planting depth. Check the down pressure on the row units as conditions change to avoid over compacting wet soils, creating sidewall compaction.