Consider Compaction this Spring

March 15, 2009 07:00 PM

The following information is a Web Extra from the pages of Farm Journal. It corresponds with the article "Better Luck This Year” by Pam Smith. You can find the article in the March 2009 issue.

Racehorse flats is what the locals call the area where I grew up in Illinois. There are a variety of reasons for that moniker, but I generally correlate it with the insanity that occurs when area farmers try to be first to the field come spring. After last year's long, drawn-out season, I can pretty much guess that the go-getters will be getting to it this year with even more fervor.
That's a worry for those of us who think about things like soil compaction. Mark Hanna, Iowa State University (ISU) agricultural engineer, says there's a good chance we may see some farmers "rush” to the fields this spring after having difficulty getting soil dry enough to plant last April/May.
Soil compaction caused by field traffic and machinery increases with high soil moisture because soil moisture works as a lubricant between soil particles under heavy pressure. The most effective way to minimize soil compaction is to avoid field operations when soil moisture is at or near field capacity.
Indications that you rushed the season can usually be seen following a normal rainfall. Slow water infiltration, water ponding, high surface runoff and soil erosion are compaction symptoms. Stunted plant growth, poor root system development and potential nutrient deficiencies also occur.
Hanna, Mahdi Al-Kaisi, ISU agronomist and Mark Licht, ISU extension field agronomist, have prepared a paper on the relationship between soil moisture and potential soil compaction.
For More Information

You can email Pam Smith at

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