Building Soils for Better Crops, Third Edition

Preventing and Lessening Compaction

Overview

A lasting injury is done by ploughing land too wet.

—S.L. DANA, 1842

We’ve already discussed the benefits of cover crops, rotations, reduced tillage, and organic matter additions for improving soil structure. However, these practices still may not prevent compacted soils unless specific steps are taken to reduce the impact of heavy loads from field equipment and inappropriately timed field operations.

The causes of compaction were discussed in chapter 6, and in this chapter we’ll discuss strategies to prevent and lessen soil compaction. The first step is to decide whether compaction is a problem and which type is affecting your soils. The symptoms, as well as remedies and preventive measures, are summarized in table 15.1.



TABLE 15.1: Types of Compaction and Their Remedies

Compaction TypeIndicationsRemedies/Prevention
Surface CrustingBreakdown of surface aggregates and sealing of surface

Poor Seedling Emergence

Accelerated runoff and erosion
Reduce tillage intensity

Leave residues on the surface

Add organic matter

Grow cover crops
Plow layerDeep wheel tracks

Prolonged saturation or standing water

Poor root growth

Hard to dig and resistant to penetrometer

Cloddy after tillage
Plow with moldboard or chisel plow, but reduce secondary tillage

Do primary tillage before winter (if no erosion danger exists)

Use zone builders

Increase organic matter additions

Use cover crops or rotation crops that can break up compact soils

Use better load distribution

Use controlled traffic

Don’t travel on soils that are wet

Improve soil drainage

SubsoilRoots can’t penetrate subsoil

Resistant to penetrometer at greater depths
Don’t travel on soils that are wet

Improve soil drainage

Till deeply with a subsoiler or zone builder

Use cover crops or rotation crops that penetrate compact subsoils

Use better load distribution

Use controlled traffic

Don’t use wheels in open furrows

Table of Contents