by Matt Hagny
To keep more corn stalks standing (thus making it easier to seed into, as well as making them last longer), it appears that one of the most effective tools is to get the head slowed down sufficiently. For instance, at 7 mph, 500 – 530 rpm on a Deere S-series with 600-series head seems about right. It pushes the stalks slightly, but ear loss doesn’t increase—at least from what we’ve seen at lowish dryland populations.
This is with straight fluted rolls, but even knife rolls will leave a lot taller stalks if you slow the head down enough.
Tall stalks may require a knock-down bar to keep wiring, hoses, etc from being ripped off the planter or drill, but this has all been done before. The effort is worth it for the serious no-tiller. Standing stalks—as opposed to having a thick mat of chopped stalks on the soil surface—will dry more rapidly in the spring (sun can reach the soil surface, or at least the older, thinner, darker-colored thatch/duff rather than a blanket of newly chopped corn stalks), and you won’t have hairpinning because standing stalks don’t need to be cut by the openers, since they simply get rolled down in the direction of travel (and even if they’re on the ground, long pieces of stalk will cut far more easily than short ones). Plus, the mulch will last longer when kept standing, which is a good thing for most no-tillers. Finally, taller stalks helps prevent the strongest winds from blowing leaves and husks into piles (ideally, the husks are still attached to the stalk—see photos from 2013 newsletter). So, burn less diesel, do less chopping, and ‘prepare’ the seedbed for the next crop. Sometimes, less is more.