No-tillers know the threat that compaction poses to their crops. And although no-tilling minimizes the risk of compaction, no-tillers might not understand how a hardpan might still sneak into their fields.
“You have to figure out, do you have a compaction problem? Is that what’s been limiting your no-till if you’ve been having some problems? Years of tillage are hard to overcome overnight when you move into no-till,” says Paul Jasa, an agricultural engineer at the University of Nebraska.
He recommends checking for compaction with a soil probe. “I have a probe with an extended handle, and I can take samples down to 4 feet deep. If I can find good roots growing 4 feet deep, should I worry? No. And as long as you have the soil sample in your hand, throw it in a box and send it off for an analysis, as well.”
Jasa cautions about improper use of penetrometers, which measure how difficult it is to penetrate the soil.
“Penetrometers sell a lot of rippers,” he says. “Dry soil is more difficult to penetrate than wet soil, but what does the ripper salesman do? He comes out with a penetrometer to your farm near harvest when the soil is dry. He pushes it in and the gauge goes way up to the red and he says you have to buy a ripper.
“Walk into that same field when the soil’s wet, push the penetrometer in, and it stays in the green the whole…