Avoiding Compaction After Iowa’s Rainy Spring

When will it let up. For the last four weeks, the Midwest has been hit with a torrent of rain and flooding, and Iowa has been no exception. For the farmer, the phrase “delayed planting” is becoming all too conversational. But as we wait for the right time to plant, Iowa’s wet spring calls for a friendly reminder: we need to avoid issues with compaction. With the wet weather proving its persistence, compaction becomes all the more likely, but a few familiar reminders can help mitigate these concerns (1):

1.) Control Traffic. 70-90% of total plow layer compaction can occur on the first trip across the field. Thus, in the days and weeks following a wet spell, controlling traffic on the field becomes all the more important.

2.) Manage Axle Loads. Heavy axle loads and prolonged wet soil conditions can increase the depth of compaction in the soil profile. Specifically, with machinery above 10 tons per axle, the soil can compact beyond the tillage layer. This problem can worsen with prior rain spells, and thus managing axle loads can avoid compaction and retain high yields.

3.) Ensure Proper Tire Pressure. Proper tire pressure, especially during previously rainy weeks, can considerably reduce compaction’s intensity from tires. Proper tire pressure for each machine can be confirmed with the tire dealers or though an online search. While managing axle loads will reduce the depth of compaction, maintaining proper tire pressure will reduce total surface compaction.

Indeed, this short reminder list is certainly not exhaustive, but hopefully as we gear up for a quickly approaching planting window (fingers crossed), it will serve as a reminder for a few easy steps to mitigate a detrimental compaction problem. Some researchers estimate that soil compaction can reduce yield as much as 60%, including shortening corn height to as much as two feet (2). Thus, with mother nature throwing us a curveball this spring, the best we can do is take the proper precautions.

(1) The information in this short list comes from the following source: University of Minnesota, “Soil Compaction” UMExtension, https://extension.umn.edu/soil-management-and-health/soil-compaction. Accessed May 12, 2019.

(2) Id.

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