A research team at Louisiana State University AgCenter, in the U.S. Mid-South, conducted a study to determine the best way for farmers to manage crop residue between growing seasons. The research, shared by the American Society of Agronomy, compared the impact of no-till and prescribed fire management on soil nutrients and microbes.

“Both of these practices have minimal physical disturbance to the soil,” says Lisa Fultz, a researcher working on the project. However, both practices have drawbacks, as well.

The team focused on wheat and soybean rotations and continuous corn production systems. “These are common practices not only in the mid-south, but across many areas of the world,” explains Fultz.

Crop residue and its degradation by soil microbes is an important part of the carbon cycle. The team found that impacts from crop management practices, like crop rotation or fertilization, outweighed the influence of prescribed fire for residue management. Findings show prescribed fire had some possible short-term benefits for soil nutrient availability, but timing is crucial.

“By improving soil health, we can improve air and water quality, store carbon, and provide stable resources for food production,” Fultz says.