Leave the Stubble to Protect the Soil

snow between residue rows
Figure 1. Standing residue captures snow across this no-till field, reducing blowing snow and erosion. (Photos by Paul Jasa)

Leave the Stubble to Protect the Soil

No-till November, a national campaign of USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service and others, encourages farmers to park their tillage implements each fall.

Figure 2. Residue standing in the field captures snow and reduces blowing snow on roads. Likewise, standing residue reduces wind erosion and blowing dirt, especially in the early spring.

It all started, says Neil Sass, an NRCS agronomist, when “I thought ‘Hey, No-Shave November is a good way to highlight men’s health, why not promote No-Till November as a way to highlight soil health?’ It seemed like a pretty good fit.”  (See full release.)

Producers are being encouraged to park their tillage implements and “keep the stubble” on their harvested fields and improve soil health. By adopting continuous no-till with crop rotation and diversity, producers can conserve soil and water resources and reduce the need for some of their purchased inputs. Improved productivity and profitability follow as the soil health improves, making their production systems more resilient while reducing risks to the environment.

Advantages of No-till

Briefly, by leaving the crop residues on the soil surface, producers can:

  1. Save fuel and labor by not tilling the soil (and reduce equipment costs).
  2. Absorb the energy of raindrop impact, reducing soil erosion and crusting.
  3. Keep the wind off the soil surface, reducing windblown soil.
  4. Capture snowfall in the fields, adding valuable soil moisture and reducing drifting on the roads.
  5. Provide a mulch to reduce soil moisture evaporation, especially next summer.
  6. Feed the soil system by allowing the residues to decay naturally.

No-till as a System

Leaving the stubble is just the first step as practicing no-till is far more than just planting a crop without tillage. No-till uses a systems approach where crops are grown with minimal soil disturbance and the soil is kept covered with residue to reduce erosion, runoff, and soil moisture evaporation. Residue management, crop rotation, nutrient management, integrated pest management, equipment and its proper operation, and many other cropping practices must be part of the systems approach. One of the keys to success is diversity in the system to reduce risk, spread the workload, and better feed the soil system. A healthy soil becomes more resilient, cycles residue and nutrients better, and stores more water.

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A field of corn.