Retention of High Levels of Crop Residue on Soil Surface During Tillage

1999 Annual Report for LNE99-115

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 1999: $98,518.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2003
Matching Non-Federal Funds: $10,738.00
Region: Northeast
State: New York
Project Leader:
Dr. Charles Mohler
Cornell University

Retention of High Levels of Crop Residue on Soil Surface During Tillage


Work during this first year of the project focused on construction of the Residue Saver, an implement that chops cover crops or picks up surface residue and redistributes these materials behind an attached tillage implement. Certain setbacks and the need for substantial changes in the initial design prevented the completion of the prototype in time for use during the 2000 growing season. However, the implement is now nearly complete and the changes should substantially increase functionality of the machine. On-farm and experiment station trials with the implement are planned for 2001.

To develop machinery that will till the soil to kill perennial weeds and improve crop establishment relative to no-till planting while retaining most crop residue on the soil surface for erosion control and suppression of annual weeds.

To test this equipment in high residue levels created by winter cover crops in agronomic and vegetable production systems, and evaluate residue coverage, weed control, and crop emergence and productivity in comparison with conventional tillage and no-till systems.

To demonstrate the feasibility and cost-effectiveness of this approach to tillage in on-farm grain and vegetable production systems.

This project has three components—construction of the prototype Residue Saver, on-farm and experiment station trials with it, and extension and outreach. Knowledge gained from the trials, plus comments from farmers and others viewing the trials and equipment, will be used to further refine the machine.

Construction of the prototype Residue Saver
The prototype is a trailing implement with a category II three-point hitch built into the rear of the frame for connection to tillage implements like chisel plows and field cultivators. The implement is raised and lowered for transport and connected with tillage implements by means of hydraulic cylinders attached to two pairs of wheels. A power-take-off-driven flail chopper is suspended near the middle of the frame. A gear box and drive line continue rearward to allow use of a rotary tiller or spading machine with the implement. The chopper chops cover crops and crop residues and blows them into a box that is cantilevered out behind the three-point hitch and over the tillage implement. The residue is distributed from the box onto the tilled ground with a high-speed beater. When a cover crop is not present, a set of ground-driven spoked wheels mounted ahead of the flail chopper lifts residue into the flail.

On-farm and experiment station trials
The Residue Saver will be used in a variety of cover crops and residues, and in conjunction with a range of tillage implements in trials with field corn at three locations, and soybeans, sweet corn and pumpkins at one location each in 2001 and 2002.

Extension and outreach
Field days, twilight meetings, and presentations at grower conferences and scientific meetings will stimulate demand for the implement and provide opportunities for growers, extension personnel, and others to provide feedback for further development.

Several setbacks slowed initial progress. Health problems and difficulties with his farming operation prevented Frisch, who is responsible for actual construction of the machine, from working on the project as much during the first year as expected. In addition, several problems required time-consuming reassessment of basic design features. Consequently, the Residue Saver was not ready for field tests this year. However, construction has proceeded steadily this fall, and the implement is nearly ready for field tests. Major changes relative to the original proposal occurred in design of the frame, power train, three-point hitch, and, most especially, the residue distribution unit. The solution of potential problems at the outset avoided wasted materials and costly re-engineering. With most of the necessary materials for the machine already purchased, the project is still more than $20,000 under the projected year-one budget.

We have received serious inquiries about the Residue Saver from John Deere & Co. and from Fleischer Manufacturing Co., makers of the Buffalo™ line of implements.

Impacts and Potential Contributions
The residue saver will allow retention of very high levels of residue at the soil surface for erosion control and suppression of annual weeds, while avoiding many of the problems associated with no-till practices such as increased run-off, poor crop establishment, and high use of herbicides.

Reported November 2000


Harold Van Es

Cornell University
Janice Degni

Cornell Cooperative Extension
Brian Caldwell

[email protected]
Farm Education Coordinator
Northeast Organic Farming Association--New York
180 Walding Lane
Spencer , NY 14883
Office Phone: 6075641060
James Frisch

Glen Creek Farms, Cornell University
Warren Van Pelt

Van Pelt Farms
Anthony Potenza

Potenza Organic Produce
K. C. & Janet Mandeville

Mandeville Farm
Brian Caldwell

Cornell Cooperative Extension