Corn School: Why do farmers till corn stalks?


It pays to manage corn stalks.

That message was heard loud and clear when agronomists Pat Lynch and Jonathan Zettler asked farmers why they till soil following a corn crop. The pair publish The Cropwalker — a weekly agronomy newsletter, and heard from 372 respondents in a Twitter poll.

The top reason for tillage, cited by 51 per cent of poll respondents, was the need to incorporate stalks, manure, and fertilizer. Number two on the list was yield increase (35 per cent), followed by need to level ground (8 per cent) and reduce tire damage (6 per cent).

On this episode of the RealAgriculture Corn School, we catch up with Lynch at Woodstock, Ont., at Canada’s Outdoor Farm Show where he helped organize and moderate the corn tillage field demonstrations, which featured 14 tillage implements.

Lynch comments on the benefits of tillage and why he feels many growers want to manage crop residue. He feels many are keen  to accelerate soil drying and seedbed prep to enable earlier planting; another need is soil mixing to help avoid layering of fertility in the soil, especially after no-till soybeans and wheat.

Lynch also shares what he’s observing as tillage equipment continues to evolve. He notes he doesn’t see an overall trend increase in corn tillage, and is surprised by the relatively slow adoption of strip tillage. There are, however, advances that do deliver considerable value for growers. One example is the ability to practice variable rate tillage, allowing growers to till at different depths across the field.

“All you need is a SWAT map or some type of prescription so that you can set the depth as you go down the field,” says Lynch. Farmers can then easily lift the implement and do light tillage on knolls and then go deeper in lower parts of fields where there’s more residue.

Lynch expects the tillage evolution to continue as farmers, sales representatives and manufacturer engineers continue to exchange ideas on what growers require from implements to manage crops and how the technology can be modified to meet these needs.

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