OMAFRA Report: Are there reasonable alternatives to fall tillage for residue management?

A weekly report prepared by the staff of the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA).  If you require further information, regarding this report, call the Elora Resource Centre at 519-846-0941.  Office hours: 8:30am to 4:30pm.For technical information call the Agricultural Information Contact Centre at 1-877-424-1300 or visit the OMAFRA website:

January 29, 2021


Big crops mean big residue left behind! One of the positives of big residues means lots of organic matter to return to the soil, which supports soil health and return or cycling of various nutrients like P, K and micros. All of this supports microbial life, reduces the potential for soil erosion by helping to keep ground covered through the vulnerable non-growing season and supports resilient soils.

Residue management begins at harvest

How do you manage those residues? Residue management has traditionally been tillage, but the first step in residue management should begin with the combine. As combines get bigger and headers get wider, its crucial to employ the right straw chopper/spreader to manage the residue coming through the combine. It is imperative that the chopper be able to spread the residue evenly over the full width of the header. It’s also very important that the chaff is spread separately than the straw when windrowing so that matting doesn’t occur in a concentrated band right behind the combine. This matting, regardless of crop, impacts seeding effectiveness, germination uniformity and early growth of the next crop. It also increases the potential for slug damage.

The real concerns for crop residues lying on the soil surface are twofold:

1. Covering the soil prevents spring sunlight from drying out and warming up the soil, which may delay planting dates.

2. Crop residues can interfere directly with seeding if the tillage and planting equipment is unable to cut the residue. Where the disks cannot cut the residue it gets pushed down into the seed trench and creates a barrier for good seed-soil contact that is critical to ensuring rapid and uniform germination of new seeds. This is called “hair-pinning”.

Traditional crop

residue management

The way most people deal with residue is to use medium to aggressive fall tillage to cut and bury residue. However, this usually results in more aggressive tillage to bury the residue because it is wet and not brittle so doesn’t cut easily with less aggressive tillage. Aggressive fall tillage often leaves the soil bare over the harsh winter period resulting in susceptibility to erosion via rainfall and wind.

Rapid shallow spring tillage to cut overwintered crop residues

It is possible to use fast shallow spring tillage to cut residue ahead of planting. In spring the surface residue is brittle and the warm, drier, long days compared to fall, make the residue easier to cut. This topic is covered by Horst Bohner in a recent episode of the 2021 Ontario Virtual Diagnostic Days (time 55.00).

Residue management by moving residue

But what if you didn’t have to cut the residue at all?! What if you just pushed it out of the way?

This option has been explored by Lawrence Hogan and Steve Howard of the Lucknow area in Huron County. Their goal in farming is to prevent soil erosion, promote soil health, lower production costs (equipment, time, fuel) and get superior crop yields.

For entire article visit

Written by Ian McDonald, Crop Innovations Specialist, OMAFRA


Feb. 10, 2021 from 10am to 12pm.

To be held virtually due to the pandemic.

Guest speakers include:

– Steve Kell to speak on grain marketing;

– Peter Johnson, lead agronomist, Real Agriculture;

– Tammy Whelan, (education lead);

– Canadian Mental Health Association (Peel/Dufferin)

For more information contact:

– Jim Irvine 519-835-9929  email:;

Brandi McCabe 519-940-6679 email:; or

– Kristen Carberry 226-343-1344 email:

To join the Zoom meeting go to ?pwd=a TIJd25 YbExZ­clBCRm5MbzAIN3hpOT09.