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Ways to avoid soil compaction when going back in the fields



MASON, Ohio — Farmers throughout most of Ohio will look back on the 2017 growing season as an incredibly long one. The season started with ideal conditions in April, though the cold and wet the next month stretched out the planting season. All this made for a long harvest season.

Growers enjoyed mild October conditions, allowing for six suitable days in the fields per week. But by late October and early November rains had hampered efforts to complete the harvesting. As of Dec. 1, 97 percent of soybeans had been harvested, with just 13 percent of corn still in Ohio fields.

“Waiting for optimal field conditions may no longer be an option, with harvest lagging behind the trending pace due to delayed planting and recent wet weather,” said Brian Baker, a Warren County farmer who had 100 acres of corn yet to deal with.

“A few November downpours brought a lot of rain into the area, bringing my late-harvest efforts to a halt. And before rushing in to resume under marginal soil conditions, I have a lot of concern about the consequences.”

Baker and many of his neighbors are concerned about soil compaction.

“Soil compaction occurs when soil particles are compressed together, reducing pore space,” said Dr. Elizabeth Hawkins, Ohio State University extension agronomist. “As pore space tightens, the ability for water to percolate through the soil profile lessens, leading to the potential of increased runoff.

“In addition, the lack of pore space leaves little room for plant roots to properly develop during future growing seasons. Because of this soil compaction, growers can experience reduced yields, with the problem difficult to manage and alleviate.”

According to John Fulton, associate professor of agricultural engineering at OSU, as farmers leave ruts they’re causing compaction, explaining as machinery carries heavy loads across the fields the deep rutting with heavy subsurface compaction can develop.

“Axle load is a determining factor in the overall depth of soil compaction,” he said. “The risk and severity of compaction increases when field activities occur on wet soils. The best way to avoid causing severe soil compaction is to avoid field activities when field conditions are marginal.

“Obviously, heavy rain events across Ohio may create a situation whereby it may not be possible to wait for fields to dry completely out. There are, however, some tips to help minimize damage during a wet harvest season.”

Hawkins and Fulton offer six tips to help minimize damage in the late, wet stages of harvest:

•Use a controlled traffic strategy to minimize the amount of field traversed by combines and grain carts. “Most damage occurs with the first pass of the machine,” Hawkins said.

•Make sure tire pressure is properly adjusted for the axle load. Larger tires with lower air pressure allow for better floatation and reduce pressure on the soil surface. “Larger tires that are properly inflated increases the ‘footprint’ on the soil,” Hawkins added.

•Minimize filling grain carts to maximum capacity, thereby reducing overall axle load.

•High inflation pressures lead to more serious compaction events.

•Hold off on soil tillage operations until soil conditions are drier than field capacity. “Tilling too wet can cause issues as well and not accomplish the intended results of tillage,” Hawkins said.

•Where funds allow, consider making the switch to tracks from wheeled tractors and carts – tracked machinery and equipment more evenly distribute weight and cause less damage than their wheeled counterparts.


For more information about soil compaction, go to