Soil compaction is an issue that many farmers struggle with and can make a big difference on the success of your yield.
To learn more about the effects of compaction, it's important to understand the soil itself. Growing soil isn't dirt. It also contains both water and air in "pores" between soil particles. Loose soil allows the water and nutrients crops need to flourish to more easily pass through and fill in these pores. Compacted soil, which is more dense and has fewer of these pores, has reduced rates of both water infiltration and drainage.
Compacted soil will negatively affect your crops, reducing yields by as much as 60 percent, according to the University of Minnesota. Soil compaction may also even impact future crops. Researches discovered that subsoil compaction impacted crop yields even more than a decade later.
Here's how you can reduce the impact of soil compaction while using your tractor:
- Don't work on wet soil. When soil reaches its saturation point, which is when it cannot absorb any more water, it is more susceptible to compaction. After heavy rains, perform a quick field test by picking up a handful of soil and forming it into a ball. If the soil is still too wet, it will be able to keep its shape better. If it can't stay in that form or starts to crack and fall apart, then that's a good indication that you can start working.
- Reduced tillage and crop residue. Reduced tillage and crop residue helps keep extra water out of the soil, avoiding oversaturation and compaction risk.
- Check your tire pressure. Tractors are heavy, so distributing weight more evenly can help reduce the effects of soil compaction. Tires with higher air pressure have a smaller area that actually comes in contact with the ground, effectively focusing all of the tractors weight in to one spot. Decreasing the tire pressure puts more of the tire in contact with the ground and evens out the weight. According to Iowa State University, equipment with tires inflated to 6 psi yielded 9 bushels per acre more than the same equipment at 16 psi. One thing to be careful of is the changing weather. Variations of temperature can impact the psi levels in your tires, so make sure to check them first before heading out.
- Use more or bigger tires. Similar to how decreasing tire pressure helps spread the weight more evenly, using dual or large diameter tires also helps avoid soil compaction. The second or larger tire spreads out the weight. You can even change up your tires and decrease the psi for a greater effect.
- Choose the right tire ballast. To help add to the effect of increasing the surface area of tires, use cast iron ballast for your tires instead of liquid. The liquid ballast reduces the flexion of your tires and, likewise, their footprint.
- Lighten the load. Tinkering with the tires, while important, can only do so much. Never overburden your tractor with weight. Also, if you have smaller pieces of equipment that can do the same job as larger ones, opt for those instead.
- Plan ahead. Going back and forth needlessly will only increase soil compaction. Plan your trips in advance to avoid extra travel.
- Stay in your lane. Reduce the area where your equipment travels by establishing lanes. This keeps the bulk of the travel in isolated places, further reducing soil compaction.
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