Reducing Soil Compaction

The right proportions of air and water in the soil are critical to providing a healthy environment for root systems. Soil compaction wreaks havoc on water and air movement, which can negatively impact productivity. The biggest compaction culprit is machinery.

Mahdi Al-Kaisi is a soil management professor at Iowa State University. He says soil that’s too wet should not have equipment on it – especially the first time out in the spring.

"Generally, the compaction mostly happens on the first drive on the field, about 70%-80%. After that it adds a small percentage, but the first impact is going to be during the first travel on the field," says Al-Kaisi. "So, if you have moisture, you’re going to get the worst of the compaction during that."

Have a specific traffic pattern laid out through the field so any machinery, wagons, or trucks travel in the same area. And, consider where they’re sitting.

"I always encourage farmers to think about when you park your grain carts or semis, you need to designate an area. You know, the beginning of the field, and not to pull all this equipment in the field," he says. "That is going to encourage more compaction."

He also recommends wider tires and low tire pressure to avoid deeply penetrating the soil surface. If you have a lot of soil compaction, don’t till it out. Al-Kaisi says it destroys the soil structure, so leave it to Mother Nature.