6 tips to avoid soil compaction

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The fall harvest has started with the remnants of Hurricane Ida and other storms dumping heavy rains across the region, resulting in wet soil conditions for the harvest.

Equipment can cause compaction of the surface and subsoil. We make the difference because surface compaction has been shown to be primarily related to contact pressure – pounds per square inch – while subsoil compaction is primarily related to axle load, such as tons per axle. or by wheel.

Soil compaction management aims to eliminate subsoil compaction and minimize surface compaction. Implementing soil health practices such as direct seeding, keeping root systems alive throughout the year, and creating organic matter can help reduce soil compaction. But even healthy soils cannot take so much, so farmers must do what they can to avoid causing compaction.

Here are six things to consider:

1. Harvest fields with lighter, drier soil first. For example, if you have sandy, shale, and limestone soil, you can harvest the sandy and shale fields first. Higher fields or those on south-facing slopes would be the first candidates to be harvested as they dry out faster.

2. Reduce the traffic area. Try to create traffic lanes instead of going all over the land. Companies are offering new GPS software systems that can be used to better manage traffic in the field, such as Machine Sync or AutoTrac by John Deere. If possible, you should unload when the combine reaches the edge of the field where the truck is parked.

3. Look at PSI. Do not take dump trucks and semi-trailers with road tires inflated between 95 and 105 psi. Instead, park them at the edge of the field. These vehicles have a very small footprint and cause high compaction of the soil on the surface.

4. Consider changing tires. The main selling point of modern agricultural tires is that they can operate at low inflation pressures, increasing their footprint and reducing the contact stress in pounds per square inch that causes soil compaction on the surface. Goodyear LSW (low sidewall) tires can roll up to 6 psi at low speed and 12 psi at 40 mph. Michelin Axiobib Very High Deflection (VF) tires can run at just as low pressures.

Michelin has a tire inflation tool that helps you determine the correct inflation pressure for its tires.

You can also use tracks. Overhead track systems are now available for combine harvesters that can help reduce surface contact pressure. For example, the average ground pressure under a John Deere S780 combine with tracks is 14 psi with a full hopper and 616C StalkMaster manifold. However, the stress is not evenly distributed under the stage fright.

5. Use four-wheel drive. Use four-wheel drive instead of two-wheel-drive tractors and combines. This helps improve traction and reduces slippage which leads to destruction and smearing of the soil structure.

6. Reduce axle loads. Consider this when it gets wet. This can be achieved by using dump trucks or smaller grain carts, increasing the number of axles, or not loading the combine or cart as full. It might not be a viable option, but it’s just something to consider. Managing axle load is really the only way to reduce the threat of subsoil compaction.

Duiker is a professor of soil management and applied soil physics at Penn State.

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