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Consider compaction when making the decision to return to fields

One of the biggest stories of the 2017 growing season may be its duration. Early and ideal conditions got planting season started in a fairly timely way back in April, but were followed by cold, wet conditions that really strung out subsequent planting, re-planting and even re-re-planting efforts. It made for a very long planting season, which set the stage for a long harvest season.

Similarly, a great stretch of weather allowed for an incredible harvest window in October, but the window abruptly shut when persistent late October and early November rains have halted harvest progress.

“We have had some good dry windows this fall but had to deal with some small rains and this last big storm that went through will put the brakes on harvest. Right at the farm we got an inch and a half and further north they got 3 to 4 inches,” said Zach Profit who farms in Van Wert County. “There is a lot of popcorn grown in this county and the high winds have really laid the popcorn over. The popcorn producers are having to pick it up off the ground and they have to deal with some mud in the grain. Later this week it is supposed to freeze and those ears will freeze to the ground.”

With the challenges from deteriorating stalk integrity in the corn and some soybeans still out around the state, more farmers are considering pushing the envelope a little when it comes to getting into maybe-too-wet fields.

In a recent CORN Newsletter article, Elizabeth Hawkins, Kaylee Port, John Fulton pointed out that before rushing to resume harvest in marginal soil conditions, it is important to consider the consequences of soil compaction.

“Soil compaction occurs when soil particles are compressed together, reducing pore space. As pore space tightens, the ability for water to percolate through the soil profile leading to the potential of increased runoff. In addition, the lack of pore space leaves little room for plant roots to properly develop during future growing seasons. Because of this soil compaction, growers can experience reduced yields with the problem difficult to manage and alleviate,” they wrote. “If you are leaving ruts, you are causing compaction. As machinery carries heavy loads across these fields, deep rutting with heavy subsurface compaction can develop. Axle load is a determining factor in the overall depth of soil compaction. The risk and severity of compaction increases when field activities occur on wet soils. The best way to avoid causing severe soil compaction is to avoid field activities when field conditions are marginal. However; recent, heavy rain events across Ohio may create a situation where it may not be possible to wait for fields to dry completely out.”

They offered the following tips to minimize damage during this wet harvest season:

  • Use a controlled traffic strategy to minimize the amount of field traversed by combines and grain carts. Most damage occurs with the first pass of the machine.
  • Make sure tire pressure is properly adjusted for the axle load. Larger tires with lower air pressure allow for better flotation and reduce pressure on the soil surface. Larger tires that are properly inflated increases the “footprint” on the soil. (Note: pressures for road travel should not be the same as field travel).
  • Minimize filling grain carts to max capacity, thereby reducing overall axle load.
  • High inflation pressures lead to more serious compaction events.
  • Hold off on soil tillage operations until soil conditions are drier than field capacity. Tilling too wet can cause issues as well and not accomplish the intended results of tillage.
  • Collect machine data to evaluate trafficked areas after harvest. These data can identify where multiple pass of equipment occurred and where areas need to be deep ripped.
  • Where funds allow, consider making the switch to tracks from wheeled tractors and carts. Tracked machinery and equipment more evenly distribute weight and cause less damage than their wheeled counterparts.

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