indiana Prairie Farmer Logo

10 ways you can improve soil structure

Here are simple, common-sense ways to improve soil structure and provide a better growing environment.

May 19, 2021

2 Min Read
hand holding corn seedling that leafed out underground
REDUCE SOIL COMAPCTION: This corn seedling leafed out underground. Soil compaction and crusting near the surface likely contributed to this misfire. Tom J. Bechman

How can soil structure be improved? There are several ways. It begins with recognizing that you would like to have better soil structure. The next step is to commit to doing whatever steps it takes over time to improve your soils and create a better growing environment.

Here are 10 things you could do to improve soil structure over time:

1. Assess your current soil structure. Is there more surface crusting than you prefer? Is the soil platy in some places, indicating soil compaction?

Related: Dig in to field scouting

2. Avoid tilling and planting when the soil is wet. It’s not always possible, but commit to staying off wet soils when you can. A large share of soil compaction happens on the first pass. Planter sidewall compaction can also hem in young roots.

3. Avoid harvesting on wet soils. Combines and large grain carts can impose tremendous pressure on the soil if it is moist enough to compact. Often, combine tracks may show up the next year or even the following year in stunted or off-color growth patterns.

4. Reduce trips across the field. Ask yourself before you begin a field operation if it is absolutely necessary. Are there trips you could eliminate or combine with another pass?

5. Use less secondary tillage. If you’re still making two passes in the spring before you plant, could you get by with one or none?

6. Reduce weight of field equipment. Keep the grain cart on the end of the field if soils are wet. If you can’t get weight off the tractor and tillage equipment, can you adjust tire pressure to help minimize soil compaction?

7. Maintain and increase organic matter. Maintain what organic matter you have by cutting down on tillage and soil erosion. Switching to no-till and cover crops can help build organic matter back over time.

8. Use cover crops with tap roots to penetrate compacted layers. Planting a variety of cover crops will allow you to include plants like radishes and turnips that have large, penetrating taproots. Others, like annual ryegrass, root very deep and help build organic matter.

9. Consider controlled traffic to reduce percentage of soil with a footprint. Line up tires and axles so the planter, sprayer and combine run in the same tracks when possible.

10. Assess your progress. After making some of these changes over time, go back with a shovel or large knife and assess your progress. Dig in the same fields where you dug before and see if you notice a change in soil structure. It won’t happen overnight, but if you’re committed, the soil will improve.

Harrison is a district conservationist with the Natural Resources Conservation Service. Tom J. Bechman contributed to this story.

Subscribe to receive top agriculture news
Be informed daily with these free e-newsletters

You May Also Like