Biological Systems Engineering


Date of this Version



NebGuide G 1931 (2009). University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension.


© 2009, The Board of Regents of the University of Nebraska on behalf of the University of Nebraska–Lincoln Extension.


Leaving crop residue on the soil surface is one of the easiest and most cost-effective methods of reducing soil erosion. Research in Nebraska and other midwestern states has shown that leaving as little as 20 percent of the soil surface covered with crop residue can reduce soil erosion by one-half of what it would be from residue-free conditions. Greater amounts of residue cover will further reduce erosion. Many Conservation Plans specify crop residue management or residue left on the soil surface as the primary erosion control method. Generally, the amount of cover required after planting ranges from 30 percent to as much as 85 percent. Thus, it is important to accurately determine percent residue cover to verify effective erosion control and compliance with a Conservation Plan. Residue cover cannot be estimated merely by looking across a field. Such estimates, often attempted from the road or edge of the field, grossly overestimate the actual amount of cover. Accurate estimates of residue cover can only be obtained from measurements taken within the field, while looking straight down at the soil and residue.

Crop residue management, or leaving residue on the soil surface, is the most cost-effective method of reducing soil erosion available to Nebraska farmers. Accurate measurements of percent residue cover are needed to determine if enough cover is present to adequately reduce erosion and to comply with a Conservation Plan. The line-transect method is one of the easiest and most accurate methods of determining percent residue cover.