Reduce Soil Compaction this Spring

Ohio State University agricultural engineers provide tips to reduce soil compaction and prepare for spring planting.

by Dani Yokhna
No-till farming
Courtesy Stock.XCHNG
Keep tires properly inflated and practice no-till farming to reduce soil compaction on your farm.

With late harvests, a wet fall and slow-melting snow, farmers across the nation are facing more soil compaction issues than usual this spring. 

Soil compaction destroys the farm’s soil structure and leaves ruts, which can increase spring planting problems like poor plant establishment, putting a ceiling on yield potential. Heavy equipment driven on wet or saturated soils increase the risk for soil compaction.

No-till farmers may be in better shape than others, says Randall Reeder, Ohio State University Extension agricultural engineer.

“Farmers faced a late harvest and a wet fall, and with so much snow, they haven’t had the opportunity to get into their fields and prepare the ground for planting.”

No-till fields are probably less rutted than soil that was tilled prior to last season.

“However, if ruts exist, do the least amount of light tillage necessary to smooth the field enough for the planter or drill to operate,” Reeder says. “This is no time to try deep tillage. Look for signs of compaction during the summer, and then consider subsoiling or planting a cover crop to correct it after harvest.”

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That’s especially good advice for farmers who like to chisel plow in the fall.

Farmers can better manage soil compaction in the future with these tips:

  • Practice continuous no-till farming. OSU research has shown that continuous no-till farming resists soil compaction better than soil that was deep tilled or subsoiled.
  • Plant cover crops to keep plants on the farm year-round. Doing so mimics Mother Nature, because soil structure, organic matter and other “living” components are in a steady state, says OSU Extension educator Jim Hoorman.
  • Practice controlled traffic—a method whereby all farm equipment is driven in the same paths year after year.
  • If you’re not using controlled traffic, run tires at the correct pressure to reduce soil compaction. “Many farm tires are over-inflated, which reduces the tire footprint, increasing compaction,” says Reeder. Over-inflation also reduces traction.
  • Remove excess weights that make a tractor heavier than necessary. Extra ballast needed
    for a tillage operation could be removed when pulling a planter.
  • Add more tires, or switch to bigger tires or rubber tracks: The more rubber that comes into contact with the ground, the less pressure on the soil.
  • Consider improving surface and subsurface drainage. A good drainage system helps the soil dry out faster, reducing the potential for soil compaction.

“These practices could lead to better soil structure and minimize yield losses in future years,” Reeder said.

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