Tackling Drainage And Compaction In No-Till

Strong soil structure, proper nutrient levels and adequate tiling hold the answer to improving drainage challenges in no-till fields.

When it comes to no-till, getting your crops planted and off to a good start is paramount. But wet conditions in a field, or a portion of a field, may limit your ability to plant. That can lead to reduced stands and possibly lower yield potential.

Wet fields are not only more difficult to plant and harvest, but they generally have more nitrogen denitrification — meaning that applied nitrogen is lost to the atmosphere and reduces the amount available for your crop later in the growing season.

No-tillers must discern if these wet spots are caused by compaction or if tile work is needed — or both. Tiles could be present but not working properly, or heavy equipment could be compacting soils and preventing water from draining away.

Ask For Help

NRCS staff can help you assess the soil types and topographies in your area that need dedicated drainage systems. Talking with other no-tillers in your area about their own systems could help you assess the need for tiling.

Another idea is to look at aerial photography of your fields to assess where tiles may be located and which ones may or may not be working properly — relative to your surface assessments for drainage.

If your fields are well drained and/or tile systems seem to be working properly, then compaction could be limiting the movement of water throughout your soil.

This type of compaction is often caused by a plow pan from running heavy equipment, such as grain carts…

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Leverich jim

Jim Leverich

No-Till Farmer's Conservation Ag Operator Fellow for 2022, Jim Leverich is a no-till farmer near Sparta, Wis. His 1,000 acre-farm has been in his family since 1864 and no-tilled since 1984. An innovator and educator, Leverich has 35-plus years of no-till and on-farm research experience, and possesses a deep, practical understanding of what makes no-till work. For his contributions while at the University of Wisconsin Cooperative Extension Service, Leverich was named the No-Till Innovator of the Year (Research & Education category) in 2006. A talented presenter and writer, Leverich was a regular guest columnist for No-Till Farmer in 2011 when it earned the Gold Medal as the nation’s top newsletter from the American Society of Business Press Editors.

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