Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Addressing Compaction

When analyzing compaction in soil, a penetrometer is a useful tool. Its long probe can be pushed down into the soil while the gauge on top provides readings of compaction layers as it pierces them.
How does compaction happen? The weight or pressure of traffic on the surface causes compaction to some degree, every time the soil is pressured. 
 According to research, the very implements we use to fight compaction, cause compaction. 
The research article most pertinent to our area that I have found is Soil Compaction: Causes Effects and Control. It is not enough to rely on the freeze thaw cycle to crack the soil and allow rocks to emerge. Compaction can be a problem in spite of this natural phenomenon.  Also, deep tillage is not an automatic fix for compaction.
The raindrops themselves, along with livestock, and what I like to call general farm activity, can all be the cause of compaction. It is interesting to realize that compaction has been studied for over 50 years.
Unless the ground is frozen or very dry, soil is sensitive to surface pressure. The purpose of monitoring and addressing compaction in soil is to be sure air, water, and nutrients are accessible by the root system of crops and grasses.
Cover crops, planted after the crop is harvested in late Summer, are selected to help alleviate compaction. The mixes often contain root vegetables such as turnips and radishes with penetrating roots that can grow deep into the soil.
It also warns us that  deep tillage may not quickly improve the situation. There are various reasons for that including soil moisture and depth of tillage. Root pits, which monitor root activities in the crop can be used to assure that the roots of crops are free to explore the soil deeply and gather the water and nutrients that they need. 
As precise means of improving agriculture comes of age, farmers continue to improve yields while making their land sustainable for the future. Each farmer must apply science to each farm as it is needed to improve yields and feed our every growing population.
Compaction is one of the 1000 things we are trying to make 1% better in GriggsDakota.

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