Farm Progress

7 steps to reduce problems with soil compaction

You can't prevent it completely or eliminate it once you have it, but you can minimize soil compaction.

Tom Bechman 1, Editor, Indiana Prairie Farm

December 2, 2016

3 Min Read

Nearly everyone was challenged by wet conditions when they wanted to plant in the spring of 2016. A few people also dealt with wet soils at harvest. If you encountered soils that were wetter than you'd like at one or both times last season, you may have faced the dilemma of how to minimize soil compaction but still get the crop planted or harvested in a timely manner.


Jeff Nagel, an agronomist with Ceres Solutions, Lafayette, and an Indiana Certified Crop Adviser, knows that soil compaction can be a frustrating part of farming. When someone asks him how to handle soil compaction, he refers to management guidelines provided by Randy Raper. He’s an ag specialist now at Oklahoma State University who's conducted years of research related to soil compaction.

Here are seven ways to manage soil compaction better on your farm. These steps are based on Raper’s guidelines and combined with some of Nagel’s observations. 

Step 1. Only work in the field when moisture is lower. Raper adds a caveat; do this "when possible." He realizes it won’t always be possible to stay out of fields if the season works against you. It comes down to making choices. Gary Steinhardt, Purdue University Extension soil specialist, says sometimes, going ahead with fieldwork even if you know you may create some soil compaction is a "cost of doing business."

Step 2. Adopt conservation cropping systems. You will make fewer total trips over the field, Raper says. You should also achieve better soil structure, which should make the soil less susceptible to compaction. Cover crops have also proved to be beneficial, Raper adds.

Step 3. Use controlled traffic systems. Here’s what happens if you don’t, Nagel notes. “Multiple trips across a field from large tractors, planters, sprayers, tillage equipment, combines and grain carts all present opportunities to cause compaction,” Nagel says. “Studies have shown that nearly 80% of a field can be trafficked in conventional-tillage systems over a growing season. The first pass causes almost 80% of the compaction.”

Step 4. Use the smallest equipment possible. Either choose smaller equipment or load equipment lighter when soil conditions are prone to compaction, Raper says. This translates to lighter axle loads.

Step 5. Use proper tire inflation. Don’t overinflate tires, Raper suggests. Many tire companies are developing tires designed to operate at lower pressures than in the past, so they are less likely to create as much deep soil compaction.

Step 6. Reduce ground contact pressure. Using duals or tracks on tractors and equipment can help accomplish this, Raper says.

Step 7. If remedial tillage is needed, think it through carefully. Use in-row or bent-leg subsoilers, Nagel advises. Only till slightly deeper than the depth of the soil compaction, he concludes.  

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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