Compaction Action

October 4, 2010 05:59 AM

Bigger is definitely not better when you consider the impact of large equipment on soil. Pinch-row compaction is an increasing issue for large-acreage farmers, says Ken Ferrie, Farm Journal Field Agronomist.

Pinch-row compaction results when the soil next to a row is crushed by a heavy tractor or planter wheel, restricting the growing space of roots.

Ferrie says that corn rows affected by pinch-row compaction yield an average 7 bu. to 10 bu. per acre less than unaffected rows.

The wet spring, coupled with the use of heavier tractors and center-fill planters, could lead to more problems this fall, he warns. “Most susceptible will be fields where conventional tillage is used because the ground is softer, enabling the compaction to go deeper. It can be a problem in no-till and strip-till, too,” he adds.

Plan before you till this fall. “You need to get all the way underneath the compacted layer and lift it up,” Ferrie says. “You need to do that without subjecting your soil to wind or water erosion or violating your highly erodible land conservation plan. The more aggressive your vertical-tillage tool, the more soil you fracture and the faster you will fix the problem.”

Keep an eye on residue. There can be some trade-off in the process. The more aggressive the tillage practice, the less residue you will leave on the surface. Farmers working in soybean residue need to be especially sensitive to this fact, Ferrie notes.

“Use an in-line ripper or a chisel plow with straight points rather than one with twisted shanks to maintain as much surface residue as possible,” Ferrie recommends.

“In corn residue, with shallow compaction, a coulter chisel may be all you need. If compaction is deep—if you tracked or rutted up the soil enough to require filling in the ruts last spring—you may need a disk ripper.”

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