Do you think there’s a chance wheel traffic in your fields could be hurting yields? If your answer is “no,” think again, says Steve Larocque.

Tissue tests taken in wheat on the Beyond Agronomy Farm in Alberta, Canada, show the impact of wheel traffic on nutrient uptake of several important nutrients in sprint wheat, says the independent crop advisor and owner of Beyond Agronomy.

The graphic shows wheat plants raised in field areas with tramlines — i.e., without wheel traffic — had higher levels of nitrogen, phosphorus (P), sulfur, calcium, iron and sodium taken up by plants. But tests in soils affected by wheel traffic showed plant sufficiency ratings suffered with those nutrients — especially with P.

The tissue samples were taken at flag leaf stage in wheat, with plants about 12 inches apart. One sample was taken on the inside edge of the tramline and one on the outside.

With grain prices still lagging, there are any number of ways growers can look to make adjustments or cuts to stay in the black. Even if you’re no-tilling, is it possible wheel traffic could be undermining your yield goals?

Your counterparts in Canada, Europe and Australia have certainly discovered it and are using CTG to eliminate troublesome compaction from the root zone and increase yields. The adoption rate of CTF in Australia is estimated at nearly 70%, and you don’t have to look very hard to find zero-tillers there who dote over their CTG systems with a sense of pride.

Many zero-tillers in Australia find themselves in arid or semi-arid climates, and the reduced compaction in their fields helps them salvage every inch of moisture to be used by the crop, even working as an insurance policy, of sorts, during hot weather.

In a wetter period, CTF keeps compaction limited to permanent tracks, instead of allowing grain carts, planters, sprayers and spreaders to run indiscriminately across no-tilled fields and increasing the area vulnerable to compaction.

There are other benefits from CTF, too. The permanent, packed tramlines allow you to move to smaller tractors to pull equipment, and those tractors will run more efficiently due to less rolling resistance on the permanent paths.

The organization CTF Europe says farmers can expect as much as a 15% increase in profitability by adopting controlled traffic, and a 20% reduction in machinery costs, along with better water infiltration and fertilizer-use efficiency.

Just like going no-till, moving to controlled traffic is a semi-permanent decision and requires some patience. Equipment widths must match in multiples, and you might have to re-examine your tire selection and precision technology needs.

If you’re interested in exploring CTF more, check out the special report No-Till Farmer produced on CTF. You can also watch a video where no-tillers Darren and Jim Nelson of Hutchinson, Kan., discuss the benefits of their tramline system on yields and nutrient uptake.

Implemented properly, CTF is another tool you can use to increase yields.