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Light Tillage Tames Ruts

Light Tillage Tames Ruts
Dry weather helped ruts dissolve more quickly.

The show must go on. On your farm, that means the crop must come out in the fall. Sometimes soil compaction is a cost of doing business. It's a concept Gary Steinhardt has discussed for the past several seasons. He is a soils specialist in the Purdue University Extension Service.

Last fall when soybean harvest was set back until early November and corn harvest followed, many farmers found themselves following the 'crop must come out strategy.' If you were forced to do so, you've probably been dealing with ruts this spring. Ruts are worse in the areas where large grain carts had to track across a field, or where the combine hit pockets of soft soil in fields that were in good enough shape to hold up the combine elsewhere.

Talk this winter was what was the best way to get rid of those ruts. It was especially worrisome for no-tillers, with ruts in cornfields where they had intended to plant soybeans into corn stalks. Would they require heavy tillage, such as chiseling or a deep disking? Or would lighter tillage work?

We've seen several examples so far where a couple passes with a field cultivator helped smooth out the soil and let it fall back into place. There wasn't a need for heavy disking. Within a few hours, the soil dried out and was ready to plant.

The weather no doubt played a big role in allowing this strategy to work. If it was a wet spring and the ruts remained wet, or even full of water, a light pass with a field cultivator might not have been successful.

Planting through the spots after he corrected ruts but left the rest of the field intact, one farmer says he couldn't tell that much difference in how the ground planted between the unworked and worked areas. The real test may come this summer, particularly if conditions turn dry. Will you be able to pick out the spots that were compacted by rutting because plants respond differently there?

Gary Steinhardt has long noted that the effect of soil compaction on soybeans often appears to be less, especially in terms of visible symptoms. Soybeans tend to handle soil compaction better than corn. The compaction is still there and can carry over into another season if it's severe enough. But soybeans tend to be able to grow through it and produce better on compacted soils than corn.

TAGS: Soybeans
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