Minimizing Soil Compaction During Harvest

Harvest machinery is getting larger and heavier, which means an increased risk of compacting the soil as it travels through the field. Soil compaction has a significant impact on water infiltration, root development, and even yield losses the next year.

Jodi Dejong-Hughes is a regional extension educator at the University of Minnesota. She says the number one natural defense you have against soil compaction is soil structure.

"When you see those little aggregates in your soil, they act like mini columns in the soil that help hold up the weight of the equipment as it’s going over. The more tillage you do, the more you break apart each of those little aggregates and they just don’t have the strength to hold up equipment," she says. "So, as you’re breaking up the structure, you’re adding a lot of air into the soil, but air cannot hold up equipment."

Deflate the air pressure in your tires and try to avoid driving on wet soil. If you’ve got no choice but to harvest in soggy conditions, don’t fill the combine bin all the way and maybe only fill the grain cart half full. This will reduce the axle load and the depth of compaction.

Having a controlled traffic system in the field can have many soil structure benefits, including rut prevention. But if you do have ruts, she says to just fill them in.

"Don’t try to do any deep ripping into them, because when you do the deep ripping you’re breaking up the structure even deeper into the soil and that’s going to set you up for deeper compaction the next year, and also the ability to sink into the soil deeper the next year," says Dejong-Hughes.