Harvest Ruts, Compaction Leave No-Tillers With Questions

Long-term no-till fields may recover through natural means, and tillage may set back those all-important macropores a few years

With wet conditions during harvest, no-tillers are likely concerned about whether they compacted their no-till soils.

That’s possible, but long-term no-tilled fields seem to be more resilient to compaction threats than tilled fields.

Long-term no-tilled fields tend to have better soil structure and can generally resist and rebound more quickly from this type of compaction.

Soil Qualities

Soil structure results from years of chemical and physical forces in the soil.

Freezing and thawing cycles, wetting and drying activities and the combination of these cycles with earthworm and other soil-life activity help bind soil particles into aggregates or clumps of various sizes and shapes.

These aggregates can be as small as a grain of sand or as large as a pea.

A well-structured soil is made up of aggregates that allow maximum space for air and water.

Ideally, air and water make up about 20% to 25% of the soil volume. Earthworm activity and increased organic matter from no-tilling improves soil structure and help soils resist compaction.

Tillage tends to break down aggregates and reduce organic matter, which generally reduces the soil’s ability to maintain structure and resist compaction from heavy loads.

Those Macropores

Soil pores exist between and within aggregates and are occupied by water and air.

Macropores are large soil pores, usually between aggregates, that are generally larger than 0.08 millimeters in diameter.

Macropores drain freely by gravity and allow water and air to move easily within the soil.

They provide habitat for soil organisms; plant roots can grow…

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Leverich_jim

Jim Leverich

Jim Leverich no-tills near Sparta, Wis., and serves as an onfarm research coordinator for the University of Wisconsin.

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