Cover Crops, Freeze-Thaw Cycle Favored For Undoing Compaction

An online discussion finds that most no-tillers prefer not to rip their fields and would rather rely on more natural methods to restore the structure of their valuable soils.

No-tillers forced to work in wet fields this fall after heavy rains might want to know that most experienced no-tillers favor the freeze-thaw cycle and cover crops rather than tillage to break up compacted soil.

At least that was the consensus among no-tillers who recently tackled the subject of soil compaction on a list serve — a sort of e-mail network — formed through the University of Nebraska. The discussion began when one of the no-tillers asked for suggestions on the best way to repair compacted ground after the corn silage harvest.

Gary Hergert, a professor of agronomy and horticulture at the University of Nebraska, responded by saying, “Normal freezing and thawing will not remove compaction from heavy silage trucks run over fine-textured soil (or any soil).” He added, “Planting a cover crop on compacted soil will only result in a poor cover crop, which will not greatly reduce the compaction (depending on the degree of compaction).”

Hergert suggested the no-tiller use a penetrometer or dig a soil pit to determine the extent of the compaction.

A Vote For Iron

“Once you have determined the extent of the compaction (density and depth), you can use some type of chisel to loosen the soil just deep enough to break up the compaction,” he said. “If your soil is wet, tillage may not help that much and you may not be able to wait for it to dry if you want to plant something, so that is a dilemma.

“For most no-tillers…

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