Soil compaction is a below-ground yield robber

Explore ways to prevent, detect and alleviate soil compaction.

Prevention is the first line of defense against soil compaction. However, if soils are compacted they will needed to be managed to alleviate the compaction layer or layers because they can’t correct this on their own. Dr. Francisco Arriaga, Assistant Professor and Extension Soil Scientist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, will be digging deeper into the science behind the yield robbing effects of soil compaction at MSU’s Agriculture Innovation Day.

Compaction increases the density of the soil. When the density reaches a certain level, it impacts the ability of soil to function properly. Compacted soils do not drain properly, they restrict root development, nutrient uptake and ultimately impact yield. Often times, you will hear producers say that they know they cause compaction, but there isn’t much they can do about it. The spring was too wet for too long. It rained all fall and we had to finish harvest. We use a grain cart to improve efficiency. The list goes on. While we know there will be times that farmers are in the field with less than ideal conditions, this should not become a common practice or soil health and crop productivity will suffer. 

The number one cause for soil compaction is getting on the field at the wrong time – when it is too wet! Larger equipment that is designed to increase efficiency also adds more weight to each pass; center fill planters, grain carts and large tractors all increase the risk of compacting soils. The number of passes across a field is also a concern. In just one season, the traffic from tillage, planting, spraying, harvesting, grain cart and other equipment can cover 90 percent of the field surface with tire tracks. Excessive tillage can also increase the risk of compaction as it destroys the soil structure leaving it more vulnerable to compaction. Keeping in mind the factors that cause soil compaction and adopting a production system to minimize the impact will limit the risk of compacting soils.

There are a couple of tell-tale signs that soils are compacted. One very obvious one is when water is standing in tire tracks after a heavy rain. Digging a little deeper we also see the impact soil compaction has on root development. If root growth is limited by compaction, plant health and yield have been impacted.

Michigan State University will host its first MSU Agriculture Innovation Day: Focus on Soils on Aug. 24, 2016, at the Saginaw Valley Research and Extension Center in Frankenmuth, Michigan. During the event, Arriaga will speak with farmers and researchers about compaction with a soil pit as a back-drop to show just how management practices have impacted the soil and ultimately plant development.

Arriaga wants producers be become familiar with the signs of soil compaction, dig a little deeper into their own management system and then take steps to correct and ultimately prevent future compaction.

Arriaga is one of many speakers set for Agriculture Innovation Day: Focus on Soils, which will provide opportunities to learn the latest research on compaction, nutrient management, soil quality and tile technology. MSU Agriculture Innovation Day is slated to become an annual event that will focus on in-depth education on a single topic. The event will rotate to various locations throughout the state. Experts will deliver innovative information to help producers take the next step in improving their bottom line while maintaining environmentally sound practices on their farms. To learn more about the event and the sessions being offered, visit the Agriculture Innovation Day page.

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