Indiana: Soil Compaction – The “Gift” That Keeps on Giving

Photo: University of Minnesota

Soils in Indiana have been too wet for field work almost since last fall. What I mean by “too wet” is so wet that the soils would not even support the weight of the field equipment without creating ruts or the equipment literally getting stuck.

The short term weather forecasts hint that some drying may finally occur over the next couple of weeks. If or when that happens, the pent up energy from delayed spring field activities will explode and there will be a “tsunami wave” of tillage, herbicide application, fertilizer application, and, of course, planting activities, some of which will occur on soils that are technically not yet “fit” for field work. The consequence of working or planting soils that are “a bit on the wet side” is that such field activities can create varying intensities and depths of soil compaction.

The problem with soil compaction is that, at the time we create it with our field operations, we are not totally aware it is happening. Oh sure, the thought might cross our minds that the soil is “a bit on the wet side”, but the reality of a late planting calendar often overwhelms common sense. And, after all, the rest of the growing season may turn out so perfect that there will be minimal effects of soil compaction on the crops……. Which often turns out to wishful thinking.

The potential consequences of soil compaction can haunt a crop the entire growing season and result in serious yield losses by the end of the season due to:

  • Planter furrow compaction that impedes emergence and initial root development of young seedlings, sometimes resulting in erratic or lower than desired plant populations.
  • Shallow tillage compaction that impedes the downward development of the young root system, thus restricting the root system to shallow depths and increasing the vulnerability of the corn plant to excessively dry conditions throughout the season.
  • Tillage or tire compaction that restricts soil drainage, causing lengthier periods of saturated soils following excessive rains that can quickly deteriorate or kill crop root systems.
  • Lengthier periods of saturated soils due to soil compaction also increase the risk of denitrification and loss of soil nitrate, resulting in potentially serious N deficiency in the corn crop.

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