Many corn and soybean growers are harvesting record crops. However, they may be facing compaction issues because of saturated soils at harvest.
"Many farmers will be unable to get back in their fields after harvest," says Randall Reeder, an Ohio State University Extension agricultural engineer. "Many fields have ruts and severe compaction issues."
So what can farmers do to break up that soil and smooth out rough fields? According to Reeder, options are limited.
"Farmers may be facing two types of compacted fields," he says. "One type is where there is an isolated compacted area. I suggest they do whatever is necessary to get that area ready for planting and leave the rest of the field alone.
"The other type is compaction across the entire field, and whatever is done in terms of tillage operations is applied to 100% of the field."
Reeder offers the following options to aid growers in preparing for spring planting:
• Do nothing about deep compaction, especially if it turns out to be a wet spring. "You don't want to make a bad situation worse by performing deep tillage on wet soils because it destroys the soil structure," Reeder says. "If a farmer can get a no-till planter or drill across rutted ground reasonably well, it may be better to take a slight yield hit in 2010 and then try to correct the deep compaction problem after harvest."
• Perform light shallow tillage, but only if the soil is dry. "If ruts or tracks are more than 2 or 3 inches deep, a light tillage pass can smooth out the soil and create a surface ideal for planting," Reeder says. "Fill in ruts enough to eliminate standing water."
• Use this fall as a valuable learning opportunity. “Consider the benefits of continuous no-till, especially with controlled traffic. Strip-till, either fall or spring, may be best for corn planting.”
Research has shown that compaction affects crop yields. Years of OSU Extension research on Hoytville silty clay loam showed that through compaction, 10% to 15% of the potential crop yield was being left in the field.
To counteract yield losses from compaction, researchers recommend no-till production. Recent research shows that continuous no-till soil resists compaction from heavy loads better than soil that is subsoiled every 3 years, resulting in higher yields.