Technology is advancing in agricultural practices and machinery right along with every other industry. While this is largely a good thing, bigger tractors and farm equipment can also lead to soil compaction if farmers continue to do things the way they always have. Here's what you need to know about soil compaction and how to avoid it.
What Is Soil Compaction?
Bigger and better equipment usually means heavier equipment. The weight of the equipment rolling over the soil compresses the soil down, leaving less air or pore spaces. This makes it harder for water to penetrate the surface and drain deep into the soil, where it can be evenly distributed.
The lack of air space also makes it harder for microbes to work and gas exchanges to take place, both important factors in breaking down the organic matter that is necessary for healthy soil. The lack of organic matter leaves the soil even more susceptible to compaction, creating a vicious circle.
How Does Soil Compaction Affect Plant Growth?
Depending on the degree of compression, compaction can have both positive and negative effects. If the soil is only slightly compacted, water loss from evaporation is reduced. This means that seeds won't dry out before they have a chance to fully germinate. Mild compaction can also compel plants to develop a strong root system as they have to branch out more in search of nutrients. Farm equipment specifically for corn farmers actually helps to create mild compaction as yield will increase for this specific crop.
On the other hand, severely compacted soil can make it harder for plants to grow as their root systems have to fight to break through the fragipan, the hardened layer. This will result in shallow roots that don't fully anchor the plant, causing stunted growth and leave it susceptible to drought. This stress can also result in disease. This in turn will affect the final yield, which of course affects your financial bottom line. Soil compaction can also eventually lead to soil erosion and water pollution caused by pesticide runoff.
How Can Soil Compaction Be Avoided?
Not working a field and staying off of it until it is in good condition is one way. This isn't always economically feasible for a farmer to do, however. A wet spring means a greater chance of soil compaction if you work the field before it is adequately dried out, but the window of planting opportunity only last so long.
One of the best ways to avoid compaction is by choosing farm equipment with tracks rather than tires. Tracks help to more evenly distributed the weight of a tractor. When tracked vehicles are combined with controlled, minimal traffic on the field, less soil compaction occurs.
If you are struggling with soil compaction, visit your agricultural equipment and supply dealership (like Clark Tractor & Supply) to get recommendations specific to your region and crops.