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Crop Residue Management Improves Soil Organic Matter, Soil Health and Productivity

By Raul Avila A.Ag, M.Sc., Crop Production Intern, Crops and Irrigation Branch

March 2020

Evenly distributed crop residue
Standing stubble in a field with crop residue chopped
and uniformly spread.

Healthy soil is a key component for healthy crops! Soil is part of the agricultural production system, in which physical, chemical and biological properties are constantly changing. They've even been improved by the adoption of zero-tillage.

In agriculture, many factors influence crop yield and quality, such as temperature, wind, precipitation and light, and most of these are not controllable under dryland farming conditions. However, to obtain optimum yield and quality, growers include the selection of high-quality seed and varieties to fit a planned crop rotation, determining nutrient deficiencies, effective control of pests and diseases, selection of a cropping system such as zero-tillage, timing and depth of seeding, and optimal residue management.

Zero-tillage, the crop production system that most producers in Saskatchewan practice, can influence soil's biological, chemical and physical properties. This management system helps build levels of soil organic matter slowly over time, as the crop residues and soil organic matter are a valuable source of slow-release plant nutrients.

Keeping the crop stubble standing, as well as evenly spreading the chopped straw and chaff during harvest, provides valuable ground cover. This is particularly important for drier regions, where soil moisture conservation is required annually. Crop residues and soil organic matter work together to have a positive influence on soil water infiltration and retention, soil air exchange, soil structure, fertility, yields, and protection of our precious soil resource from erosion by wind and water. Soil organic matter also supplies the binding agents and promotes microbial populations and biodiversity by providing food and shelter for these soil organisms. These organisms are responsible for the cementing of soil particles into stable aggregates and cycling of nutrients of a healthy soil.

Soil moisture conservation, especially in dry prairie areas that have low precipitation and high evapotranspiration, has resulted in higher productivity.'

A soil test, a critical component of 4R Nutrient Stewardship, is used to determine levels of nutrients that are needed for optimum crop production. Soil tests may also include analysis of the soil organic matter, pH and soil salinity. All of these soil characteristics are invaluable for planning for optimum yield and quality to provide an abundance and quality of grains and oilseeds to help provide nutritious food for a growing world population while growing Saskatchewan's economy.'

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