So this topic of compaction has been on my mind all year long. We talked about it this spring as we had a cool, ok cold planting season. I talked about it as it related to water infiltration and we discussed its effects on irrigation. We saw its effects on lodging in our soybeans, and how the beans died off this fall. And there was kind of this unsaid notion that we would address it after harvest. That was great until it rained for three weeks and pushed our profile to full and harvest back. So now what do we do?
So the truth of the matter is that there is no definite answer. But there are a few things that most of us have in common that need to be addressed. First of all, we know that any compaction reading over 300 psi means that our roots will experience trouble penetrating through the soil. Some of us had readings like that this summer, and some of us made readings that will be higher than that when the rain stopped, and we got after this soybean harvest. However we got here, we find ourselves here now with a soil that has a full moisture profile from 4” down.
So there is a camp that says that freezing will break up compaction. That is only partially correct. Freeze-thaw cycles will break up compaction. That is plural. We need several of them to do the job. In an average winter, we get no more than a couple of those cycles below 8”. So, on one hand, we have great soil moisture and should get a great freeze this year. We might even see some good frost heaves this year because of it. But remember that it is rare that this solves a freeze-thaw cycle all by itself.
And while we are on the topic of soil moisture, it is also working against us in a way. To go out and do mechanical remediation this fall is probably not going to be all that effective. Ripping works the best when the soil is drier than it is right now. What we would create with ripping right now is a mess that we would probably have to hit with tillage to make plantable. And then we are possibly turning around and working wet ground and making a tillage pan. It is a vicious cycle that has no escape with now. The fact of the matter is that this soil really won’t dry out below 6” until something is growing on it again.
So as much as it pains me to say it, the take home for today is that there may not be a good answer for you this fall to deal with a problem we have talked about all year. Everybody’s situation and soil type is different, but I think that in general, we have to be in a holding pattern right now. Cover Crops and Tillage crops may help, but if compaction is more than 300 psi, they are still limited in what they can do.
So often, technology or something in the Precision Ag world has a solution or is at least a tool in dealing with a problem. This time I am afraid that isn’t true. What we need to do is trust soil moisture readings and not force a solution. Work with your trusted advisor and come up with some game plans, and if the opportunity is right, perhaps something will work. But sometimes the decision to not do anything right now is a far better decision than the one to act when it is wrong.