Waiting for optimal field conditions may no longer be an option with harvest lagging behind the trending pace due to delayed planting and recent wet weather. Observation data from the CoCoRaHS network indicated weekend storms brought nearly 3 inches of rain to some areas bringing harvest to a halt in Ohio. Before rushing to resume harvest in marginal soil conditions, it is important to consider the consequences, namely; soil compaction.
Soil compaction occurs when soil particles are compressed together, reducing pore space. As pore space tightens, the ability for water to percolate through the soil profile leading to the potential of increased runoff. In addition, the lack of pore space leaves little room for plant roots to properly develop during future growing seasons. Because of this soil compaction, growers can experience reduced yields with the problem difficult to manage and alleviate.
If you are leaving ruts, you are causing compaction. As machinery carries heavy loads across these fields, deep rutting with heavy subsurface compaction can develop. Axle load is a determining factor in the overall depth of soil compaction. The risk and severity of compaction increases when field activities occur on wet soils. The best way to avoid causing severe soil compaction is to avoid field activities when field conditions are marginal. However; recent, heavy rain events across Ohio may create a situation where it may not be possible to wait for fields to dry completely out.
If you are planning to head back out, here are some tips to minimize damage during this wet harvest season:
- Use a controlled traffic strategy to minimize the amount of field traversed by combines and grain carts. Most damage occurs with the first pass of the machine.
- Make sure tire pressure is properly adjusted for the axle load. Larger tires with lower air pressure allow for better flotation and reduce pressure on the soil surface. Larger tires that are properly inflated increases the "footprint" on the soil. (Note: pressures for road travel should not be the same as field travel).
- Minimize filling grain carts to max capacity, thereby reducing overall axle load.
- High inflation pressures lead to more serious compaction events.
- Hold off on soil tillage operations until soil conditions are drier than field capacity. Tilling too wet can cause issues as well and not accomplish the intended results of tillage.
- Collect machine data to evaluate trafficked areas after harvest. These data can identify where multiple pass of equipment occurred and where areas need to be deep ripped.
- Where funds allow, consider making the switch to tracks from wheeled tractors and carts. Tracked machinery and equipment more evenly distribute weight and cause less damage than their wheeled counterparts.