As farm equipment gets larger and heavier, yield loss and profit reduction caused by soil compaction is becoming more frequent. Fortunately, growers adopting no-till systems reduce the number of passes across each field and the overall risk of compaction.
However, even with no-till, growers should still be aware of compaction. Heavy axle loads traveling across fields during each planting and a harvest-time pass can cause significant soil compaction problems and reduce yields.
Soil compaction is most likely on sandy loam and sandy clay loam soils because of the variations in aggregate sizes. But other soil types are still susceptible to compaction.
Fortunately, producers who have used long-term no-till have experienced a gradual improvement in organic-matter levels. These increases have improved soil bearing strength, which can help resist future soil compaction.
The easiest methods for reducing compaction include staying off wet fields with heavy equipment; equipping tractors and harvesting equipment with duals or tracks; reducing tire inflation pressures to manufacturer’s minimum recommendations for the load per axle; and the adoption of controlled traffic systems.
Research suggests that long-term no-till will slowly increase soil organic matter, which has been found to increase soil porosity and reduce bulk density. Both of these factors can help improve rooting performance of crops and boost access to soil moisture and nutrients.
No-till will help reduce compaction over time; however, it will not completely prevent compaction, so growers should still take steps to manage the causes of soil compaction.