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Control Traffic to Reduce Compaction

In a normal year, a farmer may
drive on as much as 90% of a field
, according to a study by the
University of Nebraska. In addition, almost 80% of compaction happens in
the first pass
across a field, says Jodi DeJong-Hughes, an Extension educator at the University of Minnesota. Those two statistics
should at least make you consider controlled traffic.

controlling traffic, the tracked area will have slightly deeper
compaction, but the soil between tracks won’t be compacted. This will take extra management.

traffic also requires equipment that matches up as well as narrow tires
or tracks, which can be an expensive investment unless you plan ahead
and spread out the purchase.

“As you trade in equipment over
the next five years, start making sure everything fits,” advises Randall Reeder, a retired Extension ag engineer from Ohio State University.
The corn head will be the defining factor for selecting the working
width for your controlled-traffic system.

If you have a
12-row head, 30 feet (or a multiple of 30) will be your working width.
For example, a 12- or 24-row planter and a 60- or 90-foot sprayer would
work for this system. Auto steer is also an essential item.

are two equipment challenges for controlled traffic: the grain platform
for the combine and the grain cart. You most likely have a grain
platform that is wider than your corn head.

“From a
material-handling standpoint, this makes sense, as soybeans and wheat
yield far less per acre than corn does,” explains Reeder. “To stay in
controlled traffic, the grain platform must match the corn head, so you
will have to give up a little field efficiency.”

The grain
cart is the next issue. “The grain cart is the worst compacting load,”
says Reeder. “It needs to run in the same track the combine did on the
previous pass, so you need to have an auger long enough to reach the
grain cart.”

Tillage can be difficult in a controlled-traffic
environment. Reeder’s recommendation is continuous no-till. If you feel
you need to do some tillage, strip-till is a viable solution. “You could
also use a field cultivator after removing the shanks that would be in
the tracks,” says Reeder.

“One of the main reasons farmers do
tillage is to eliminate compaction,” says Reeder. “If you aren’t
compacting the soil anymore, you’ve eliminated that reason.”

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