U.S. Department of Agriculture: Agricultural Research Service, Lincoln, Nebraska


Date of this Version

November 1984


Published in Soil Sci. Soc. Am. J. 48:640-645 (1984).


Crop residues have been considered during the past decade as alternate energy sources to supplement dwindling fossil fuel sources and enhance energy independence in the United States. Agricultural scientists have demonstrated the importance of crop residues in reducing soil erosion, enhancing the soil physical environment for plant growth, and as a reserve for major crop nutrients. In eastern Nebraska, we evaluated the effects of various amounts of surface crop residues (aboveground dry matter remaining after harvest) on dryland production of no-till corn (Zea mays L.), sorghum [Sorghum bicolor (L.) Moench], and soybean [Glycine max (L.) Merrill] over a l yr period. Where crop residues were completely removed after harvest, average grain and residue yields of corn and soybean were 22 and 24% lower, respectively, than where residues were not removed. Removal of 50% or addition of 50% (150%) surface crop residues had little or no effect on crop yields compared to no removal (100%).

Sorghum yields were unaffected by residue removal, but stands were significantly less at the 150% residue rate. Yield reductions for corn and soybean resulted primarily from decreased soil water storage and excessive surface soil temperatures where residues were completely removed. Sorghum tolerated conditions of temperature and water stress better than other crops. Removal of surface crop residues can seriously reduce corn and soybean yields in climates where stressful conditions occur during the growing season. Considerations for using crop residues as alternate energy sources should include these potential reductions in grain and residue yields, as well as increased nutrient removal and greater potential for soil erosion.