Farmer Alternatives for Managing Straw

There are many environmental risks associated with stubble burning. Thus the adoption of alternative straw management strategies is in the best interest of all involved. Over a period of years, burning can reduce soil quality and make land more susceptible to erosion. Continuous burning is not a sustainable agricultural practice. Smoke from burning straw also contributes to increased carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere which may effect greenhouse gas buildup.

Perhaps one of the mindsets that needs to change is the idea that crop residue is a harvest related problem. Although this tends to be the case, the time to start thinking about managing straw is not necessarily at harvest. There are decisions that producers can make during seeding and crop growth that will have an impact on the amount of straw they are forced to deal with at harvest.

Do Not Over-Fertilize

The grain yield of cereal crops responds to nitrogen fertilizer to a point then levels off. However, straw production continues to increase at nitrogen fertilizer rates above which there is no benefit to grain yield.

Crop Variety Selection

Choose varieties with lower straw-to-grain ratio. Semi-dwarf varieties of wheat produce less straw but more chaff than conventional height varieties. Among conventional height varieties, there are some that produce more straw for the same grain yield but less residue than AC Minto. In barley, six row varieties have a lower straw-to-grain ratio than two row varieties and therefore, six row varieties should be grown where residue production is excessive.

Chopping and Spreading Straw

At harvest, it is best to chop the straw as fine as possible and spread both the straw and chaff across as wide an area as possible. A chaff spreader can be added on to a combine at reasonable cost. Chopping straw does not influence its rate of breakdown but it does facilitate harrowing or cultivation which places the straw in closer contact with soil which does hasten decomposition.

Hay and Straw Listing Service

Markets exist for baled straw. Bedding for livestock is the traditional use for straw bales. Manitoba Agriculture offers an online service called The Manitoba Hay Listing that allows producers to list any straw they have for sale.