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Be Patient Now To Avoid Damaging Soil

Be Patient Now To Avoid Damaging Soil

Soft spots can be prone to excessive compaction.

It's tough to be patient when spring finally comes," says Jeff Hemenway, Natural Resource Conservation Service soil quality specialist in South Dakota.

But it pays to be patient. Applying fertilizer and manure and doing tillage too early can damage soil structure.

"When the surface gets dry, some people think it's okay to get into the field. But, a quick sample with a soil probe will give you some real answers," he says.

Soils in good health will appear darker in color, crumbly, and porous, like chocolate cake. An unhealthy, poorly functioning soil appears lighter in color, may be compacted, or has poor soil structure, and which limits rooting potential and biological activity."

Tillage is touchy. An NRCS soil quality specialist says to be patient. Let the soil dry out completely before doing fieldwork.

"Be aware of the negative things that happen with tillage and especially when soil conditions are too wet," he says.

As the frost continues to come out, it can create soft spots that can be prone to compaction if attempting field passes to apply fertilizer, manure, or tillage.  Tilling in wet conditions can damage soil structure by reducing soil porosity and air and water movement in the soil profile.

Tilling in wet soil is not effective in fracturing compacted soils. In fact, it creates more compaction further limiting water infiltration and creating a soil environment with extremely poor seedbed conditions."

A healthy, fully functioning soil can increase production, increase profits, and protect natural resources. Poor soil conditions can lead to poor development of root systems and other problems later in the season.

"Also, if a fall soil sample wasn't taken, getting a spring soil sample is essential to balance your soil's nutrient needs before planting," says Hemenway. 

To learn more about managing for healthier soil, visit, and click on "Unlock the Secrets in the Soil" or contact the NRCS staff at your local USDA Service Center.

Source: NRCS South Dakota

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