Leaving crop residue on the soil surface improves nutrient cycling and, ultimately, soil quality that will increase and sustain soil productivity. Through conservation practices that include balanced residue management and soil fertility, environmental quality can be substantially enhanced. By retaining crop residue on the soil surface, soil organic carbon (SOC) and nutrient-holding capacity are increased while protecting the soil from wind and water erosion. Wet conditions experienced in Iowa this past year demonstrate the value of leaving crop residue on the soil surface to reduce surface runoff, sediment loss, and associated nutrient losses.
Alternative uses of corn residues for various purposes, such as baling residue for animal use or for ethanol production from lignocellulosic biomass, may have adverse effects on soil and water quality. The reduced nutrient supply associated with corn stover removal represents an economic loss in the short term, but it will have a long-term negative effect on soil quality, water quality, and agriculture sustainability. The quantity of nutrients lost with stover removal depends on residue type, amount of residue removed, soil type, climate, soil organic matter, rate of residue decomposition, tillage, and other management practices. If unsustainable amounts of stover are removed from the field, wind and water soil erosion will intensify while accelerating the loss of SOC and other nutrient levels and potentially can reduce future yields.
Short-term and Long-term effects
Residue removal in Iowa may have a small effect on soil productivity in the short term due to rich organic matter soils; however, this will not be a sustainable practice in the long term as demonstrated by many studies where the acceleration of soil and nutrient losses were significant. Long-term effects of removing high levels of corn residue can lead to net losses of nutrients under standard fertilization practices. Continue reading the full article here: How residue removal affects nutrient cycling.
Soil Health Conference
The environmental effects of residue removal and conservation practices will be discussed at the upcoming Soil Health Conference in Ames, Iowa on February 16-17, 2017. The two-day Soil Health Conference will focus on addressing management practices that sustain a profitable agricultural systems while protecting the environment. The goal is to increase awareness and understanding that soil health is pivotal to sustainable agriculture and environmental quality in Iowa and the Midwest.
Presentations at the conference will address concerns and interests of farmers, agronomists, agricultural consultants, soil scientists, extension professionals, and policy makers and will appeal to those who are interested in learning about soils for sustainable agriculture. This conference will provide an opportunity to Certified Crop Advisers who are eligible to earn continued education credits in soil and water by attending the many breakout sessions.
To view the preliminary conference program and to register, visit register.extension.iastate.edu/soilhealth/registration.
Links to this article are strongly encouraged, and this article may be republished without further permission if published as written and if credit is given to the author, Integrated Crop Management News, and Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. If this article is to be used in any other manner, permission from the author is required. This article was originally published on December 15, 2016. The information contained within may not be the most current and accurate depending on when it is accessed.