Missouri Ruralist logo

Till only acres that offer return on investment

Mapping soil compaction can provide a tillage prescription for your farm.

Mindy Ward, Editor, Missouri Ruralist

May 30, 2023

3 Min Read
Tractor preparing land for sowing
BE DECISIVE: Not every acre of your field may need tilling. One new mapping tool offers a look at compaction on the farm, then provides a prescription for correction. fotokostic/Getty Images

Soil compaction robs your farm of yield, but tillage takes a chunk out of your profits. One company offers a way to work ground only in places that improve the soil and save you money.

Lars Dyrud is a space physicist by training who spent the first half of his career conducting research on Earth and space science. The second half of his career has focused on entrepreneurship, mainly with companies using machine learning to make maps — soil, compaction, carbon, moisture and fertility. He says his company, EarthOptics, can do it cheaper, better, faster and more accurately.

One such tool is TillMapper, which maps a grower’s field showing how compact the soil is at different depths, and then provides a prescription for tilling in the right place at the right depth.

“What we want to help farmers do is reduce soil disturbance and save them time and money by focusing those efforts in areas where tillage is actually going to have a benefit,” Dyrud says.

Problem with compaction

Compaction increases soil density, causing a host of problems for plants, including:

  • poor root growth

  • reduced nutrient uptake

  • reduced water uptake

  • nitrogen deficiency

  • potassium deficiency

  • yield loss

According to research by Goldman Sachs, compaction costs $20 billion in lost yield in the U.S. “So, many growers want to remediate compaction where it occurs because it goes straight to their top line,” Dyrud explains.

The result, he says, is some growers till everywhere, every year. But excessive tilling is not the answer.

Tillage is expensive in terms of equipment, fuel and time. But there is one area farmers may not consider — wasting all the input costs on fields that will not offer a return on the investment.

Dyrud observes that between 30% and 50% of any given field benefits from tillage. “We think there’s at least approximately $1.5 [billion] to $2 billion of wasted expense tilling soil that has no benefit. It is either not compacted or will not improve after that tillage.”

Solution through mapping

TillMapper offers a customized tillage prescription for variable tilling (tilling at variable depths) and spot tilling (tilling only on specific parts of the field that are compacted). It can also be adjusted according to grower preferences for compaction threshold, maximum tillage depth and specific crop.

“We wanted to be able to show farmers that they could dramatically reduce their tillage, saving money, saving diesel, saving time and expense, but also improve soil health by only disturbing the soil that would benefit from being tilled,” Dyrud explains.

EarthOptics worked with the Case IH Ecolo-Tiger 875 automated tillage system, the rippers lifted and lowered in accordance with the prescription to the correct tillage depth. Dyrud says it saved the farmer 40% of what it would have cost if the grower would have tilled the entire field at a 12-inch depth. “That translates to about a $15 per acre savings,” he concludes.

Dyrud says it is more than just cost savings, adding that farmers gain improved soil structure and soil health properties, plus increased carbon sequestration.

Read more about:

Soil Compaction

About the Author(s)

Mindy Ward

Editor, Missouri Ruralist

Mindy resides on a small farm just outside of Holstein, Mo, about 80 miles southwest of St. Louis.

After graduating from the University of Missouri-Columbia with a bachelor’s degree in agricultural journalism, she worked briefly at a public relations firm in Kansas City. Her husband’s career led the couple north to Minnesota.

There, she reported on large-scale production of corn, soybeans, sugar beets, and dairy, as well as, biofuels for The Land. After 10 years, the couple returned to Missouri and she began covering agriculture in the Show-Me State.

“In all my 15 years of writing about agriculture, I have found some of the most progressive thinkers are farmers,” she says. “They are constantly searching for ways to do more with less, improve their land and leave their legacy to the next generation.”

Mindy and her husband, Stacy, together with their daughters, Elisa and Cassidy, operate Showtime Farms in southern Warren County. The family spends a great deal of time caring for and showing Dorset, Oxford and crossbred sheep.

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

You May Also Like