Driving through the county this fall, you might have seen a lot of fields where crop residue was baled. Baling crop residue can be a way to bring more income to the farm in lean years, but will it pay off in the long run? Let’s look at the pros and cons of baling residue to see if it is a fit for your farm.
- Increased income per acre.
- In corn-on-corn fields, you may see increased yields as well as decreased foliar disease pressure (most foliar diseases are residue-borne meaning next year inoculum comes from infested corn residue).
- And if you have livestock, you can use residue for feed as well as bedding.
These factors making baling seem like a good plan but what could you be losing by baling crop residue?
- Baling residue does cost in labor, time and money (raking, baling, and moving bales).
- When you haul residue off a field, you are hauling nutrients and organic matter off the field as well. Table 1 shows approximately how many pounds of Nitrogen, Phosphorus, Potassium and Sulfur you are removing when residue is taken off a field. If you remove 4 ton/acre of corn residues, you are removing 68 lbs./acre Nitrogen, 16 lbs./acre Phosphorus, 134 lbs./acre Potassium, 12 lbs./acre Sulfur and many other nutrients in lesser amounts. If you remove this residue, you need to have a plan to replace it, whether that be through a manure application or synthetic fertilizers.
- In addition to nutrient loss, you also are losing organic matter. If you continue to remove residue, eventually you will begin to deplete organic matter on these fields. Organic matter is important for nutrient cycling, water holding capabilities of a soil, and water infiltration.
Erosion control is a final consideration for whether baling residue is for you. If residue is needed, pick fields where wind and water erosion are less of a concern. On steep slopes, leave residue cover and choose fields with heavier soil types to minimize wind erosion through the winter and spring.
Summary: Consider the pros and cons above and the chart below to see if removing residue from your fields might be cost-effective in the long run. The bottom line is if residue is removed from a field, you need to make sure those nutrients are replaced in one way or another.
Source: UNL Cropwatch. What is the value of soybean residue? December 13, 2018
-Craig Langemeier, Western Product Agronomist