Managing Crop Residues for Soil Health

Project Overview

Project Type: Graduate Student
Funds awarded in 2022: $29,698.00
Projected End Date: 11/30/2024
Host Institution Award ID: 4W9904
Grant Recipient: Montana State University
Region: Western
State: Montana
Graduate Student:
Principal Investigator:
Dr. Catherine Zabinski
Montana State University


  • Agronomic: barley, canola, peas (field, cowpeas), wheat
  • Vegetables: lentils


  • Animal Production: feed/forage
  • Crop Production: conservation tillage, continuous cropping, cover crops, crop rotation, cropping systems, fallow, no-till, nutrient cycling
  • Education and Training: extension, on-farm/ranch research, participatory research
  • Production Systems: dryland farming, organic agriculture
  • Soil Management: nutrient mineralization, organic matter, soil analysis, soil chemistry, soil quality/health

    Proposal abstract:

    Maintaining soil health in agricultural systems is vital for long term sustainable food production, increasing environmental protection, and achieving food security. Organic inputs through post-harvest crop residue can be a critical component of building soil health by supplying organic matter and nutrients for the next growing season. This project addresses the question of how residue and biomass inputs from different crop rotations impact soil health traits in dryland agricultural systems. To assess the impacts of crop residue, aboveground and root biomass will be quantified after harvest in diverse cereal, legume, and oil seed crop rotations. The following spring, we will sample soils to measure capacity for nutrient cycling, enzyme activity, and soil organic matter dynamics. We will present research results to over 1,500 producers and ag professionals across Montana through Field Days at Montana State University’s Agricultural Research Centers and Extension Presentations about soil health. Development of outreach materials such as a Montguide, Soil Scoop, research article, and interviews on the Northern Ag Network radio station will extend the outreach of this project to 4,000 producers and ag professionals throughout the Northern Great Plains. The results of this study will help inform farmer’s decision making regarding crop residue management and selection of crop rotations based on their soil health goals.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    Project Objectives:

    1. To assess the impacts of different crop’s post-harvest residue and root biomass on soil activity during the following growing season;
    2. To measure soil health traits that contribute to soil’s capacity to capture and retain water and promote nutrient cycling across crop rotations;
    3. To identify target crop rotations and their residue metrics that contribute to soil health;
    4. To present soil health impacts from crop residue to at least 1,000 producers and agricultural professionals by December 2023;
    5. To develop a Montguide, write a research article, give interviews, and prepare other communication materials on crop residue effects on biological soil health parameters to extend outreach to 4,000 individuals indirectly.
    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.