Next Generation Farming

Residue: Big Problems for Wheat Planting

Residue from record 2010 wheat crop creates nightmares for planting

Wheat-planting season is finally drawing to a close, and it couldn't have come any sooner.

This season has simply been a nightmare. Yes, the drought has caused many sleepless nights on when to plant and if we'll get a stand that can last through the winter. But causing the biggest headaches for us this year was the insane amount of crop residue that complicated virtually every operation on the farm.

Last year was our biggest wheat crop in history thanks to the extremely wet fall that recharged our subsoil moisture. Most of our fields in 2010 yielded 70-80 bu/acre – nearly twice our normal yield. Some farmers in the area boasted of yields reaching 100 bu/acre.

Big yields, though, also produce big stubble. According to Kansas State University, one bushel of wheat produces 100 pounds of crop residue. So in an average year, a 40-bushel/acre crop would produce two tons/acre of wheat straw. This year, we were fighting through more than four tons/acre of straw.

With that kind of residue, simply trying to get machinery through the field was like combing bubblegum out of a three-year-old's hair.

Constant clogging

The extreme dryness this year compounded problems as there was no moisture to break down the residue, leaving it light and fluffy and causing constant clogging in implements.

This required some serious innovative thinking and patience throughout the entire season.

Undercutting ahead of planting was the first nightmare. One field earlier this summer took three days to work, when in a normal year we could finish it in less than one day. We also had to make multiple trips to town to replace hydraulic hoses and a broken hitch caused by lifting the plow out of the ground countless times and moving it back and forth to clear the residue.

On our worst fields, we resorted to bringing out the ditch mower to chop the stubble before following with the plow.

The biggest challenge, though, was planting. The difficulty was not only having to cut through the heavy mat of residue, but to also reach deep enough with a hoe drill to plant the seed into 1-1.5" of firm moist soil, which has not been in abundance this year. With moisture scarce and becoming scarcer due to heat and high winds in one of the worst droughts in history, timeliness of planting was critical. 

Our ditch mower again came in handy. Using our 15-foot mower to clear a path for a 60-foot drill, planting our worst fields was a serious test of patience. All told, the planting season stretched out for more than a month from start to finish, including replanting some portions of fields due to poor emergence from the drought.

While the mower helped and cut the number of clog-ups in half, we still ended up leaving piles of straw scattered across the field – which could create a whole new problem for harvest next year with combines choking on massive straw piles.

Maybe our nightmare with straw from the 2010 wheat crop has only just begun!

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