As the combines roll across fields, it’s not hard to spot the wheel tracks, ruts and pinch rows. At planting and sidedressing, it came to the point that causing field damage was better than having little to no crop at all. Now it’s time to reckon with the damage. Take advantage of a dry harvest to fix the issues stemming from excessive rainfall this past spring and summer.
“Breaking up compaction in wheel tracks this fall will gain more benefit from the freezing and thawing cycle,” says Farm Journal Field Agronomist Ken Ferrie. “The best option is to follow the combine as close as possible with your tillage regimen to ensure you’re working in drier soil and have time on your side.”
To determine how to fix ruts, pinch rows and wheel tracks, consider your standard fall routine and crop rotation.
“There is a big difference between preparing a seedbed for corn versus soybeans,” Ferrie says. “You can get away with tougher conditions ahead of soybeans compared to corn.”
For a vertical-till field in a corn-to-soybean rotation with ruts or severe pinch rows, use a chisel plow in the cornstalks followed by a vertical-till leveling pass next spring. When using a chisel plow, make sure you achieve full width shatter from shank to shank for optimum results, Ferrie says.
In a vertical-till, soybean-to-corn rotation, use an in-line ripper in bean stubble when dealing with pinch rows and 4" ruts. An in-line ripper picks up dirt and drops it. Run the in-line ripper at an angle to make sure you cross the ruts or pinch rows. If you run with the rows, it might not bust wheel tracks apart; it will only pick them up and set them back down. In these scenarios, it will likely take two passes with a vertical-till leveling tool next spring to eliminate the tracks.
In 6" to 8" ruts, don’t use an in-line ripper. Instead, Ferrie suggests a chisel plow. If ruts are spotty, chisel them in first and then in-line rip the entire field, leaving a large portion of the field covered in residue. If deep ruts appear across the entire field, run the chisel plow across it all. Be sure to respect land contour to eliminate erosion.
Deep ruts usually aren’t an issue in strip-till and no-till fields because the soil is more firm. However, take action to fix tracks and 2" to 4" ruts, as the benefits far outweigh the risks.