Farm Progress

Agronomists point out pros and cons for reduced tillage and soil compaction.

Tom Bechman 1, Editor, Indiana Prairie Farm

December 5, 2016

2 Min Read

Does no-till help or hurt when it comes to creating and dealing with soil compaction? The answer depends on not only who you talk to, but also what type of situation you are talking about.

Nearly all of Indiana experienced wet conditions in the spring of 2016, which could have led to soil compaction if fields were worked when wetter than desirable. However, harvest conditions were ideal in southern Indiana.

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“We experienced a very dry and warm September, October and November, so I have no concerns about compaction from the fall,” says Darrell Shemwell, manager of the Poseyville branch of the Posey County Co-op and an Indiana Certified Crop Adviser. “Most all of our fieldwork was done, with people planting cover crops, chisel-plowing or disking in many areas.”

What about freezing and thawing if you have soil compaction? Is it more likely to help in one tillage system or another?

“Freezing and thawing cycles will help alleviate soil compaction in all cropping systems,” Shemwell says. “If you have areas that are heavily traveled and deeply compacted, you may want to consider some type of deep tillage or cover crops on those areas.”

Jeff Nagel, an agronomist with Ceres Solutions, Lafayette, and also a CCA, agrees that freeze-and-thaw cycles may help, but only with very shallow compaction. They won’t help with deeper compaction, he says. Larger equipment makes farming more efficient, he notes, but it also increases axle loads and can add to deeper soil compaction.

Nagel says controlled traffic can help reduce the potential for soil compaction. He also says fewer trips over the field will result in better soil structure, which can help soil contend with compaction pressures. Typically, it’s easier to institute controlled traffic systems in reduced tillage.

However, Shemwell has observed a trend in no-till that could possibly lead to more soil compaction. “It seems that over the past few years in no-till situations, we have growers planting their no-till acres earlier because they can get on those acres sooner because it will hold them up,” Shemwell observes. “But in effect, [that] may be causing more compaction.”  

About the Author(s)

Tom Bechman 1

Editor, Indiana Prairie Farm

Tom Bechman is an important cog in the Farm Progress machinery. In addition to serving as editor of Indiana Prairie Farmer, Tom is nationally known for his coverage of Midwest agronomy, conservation, no-till farming, farm management, farm safety, high-tech farming and personal property tax relief. His byline appears monthly in many of the 18 state and regional farm magazines published by Farm Progress.

"I consider it my responsibility and opportunity as a farm magazine editor to supply useful information that will help today's farm families survive and thrive," the veteran editor says.

Tom graduated from Whiteland (Ind.) High School, earned his B.S. in animal science and agricultural education from Purdue University in 1975 and an M.S. in dairy nutrition two years later. He first joined the magazine as a field editor in 1981 after four years as a vocational agriculture teacher.

Tom enjoys interacting with farm families, university specialists and industry leaders, gathering and sifting through loads of information available in agriculture today. "Whenever I find a new idea or a new thought that could either improve someone's life or their income, I consider it a personal challenge to discover how to present it in the most useful form, " he says.

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