Delayed by Rain? Fight Compaction for Free
Wet soils, heavy equipment, and eagerness to get into fields, will all add up to a big soil compaction problem this spring, according to an Ohio State University agricultural engineer.
If you're waiting for fields to dry, Randall Reeder has a tip that can reduce the chances of compaction once you get going again: "There is something you can do instantly, and it won't cost you a dime," Reeder says. "Make sure your tires are not overinflated. Get out the tire gauge and check the load tables for the tires to make sure the tires are at the correct pressure."
Overinflation by just a few pounds per square inch (psi) can contribute to compaction, particularly in the heavy, poorly-drained, clay-type soils of the Midwest, Reeder says. Overinflation also can cause tires to slip during field work, he says.
Compaction can result in yield losses lasting for many seasons, Reeder says. A recent OSU study in Wood County showed compaction's long-term effects are not always corrected by subsoiling.
Unfortunately, other compaction management strategies can be implemented only after this planting season, Reeder says. An effective method in no-till and ridge-till systems is controlled traffic patterns -- running tractor tires over the same tracks every year.
Controlled traffic allows farmers to get into fields sooner, because compaction is limited to the same track patterns, Reeder says. Controlled tracks also are firmer, preventing tires from sinking.
Another way to control compaction is to use larger-size low-pressure tires, or add dual tires, to distribute the tractor's weight over a wider area, Reeder says. Tractors with rubber tracks also are effective compaction-fighters, he says.
A recent OSU study using four-wheel-drive tractors showed a reduction in compaction when tires were inflated at 6-7 psi rather than at 24 psi. Also, equipment with 2- or 3-foot-wide rubber tracks were almost as effective in cutting down compaction as tractors with the low-pressure tires.
All this can be food for thought for 1996 planning. "Next winter when you make plans for the season, you need to think about this current spring when controlled traffic would have been a big help," Reeder says.