Tips to Avoid Soil Compaction During Spring Planting

As farmers get the itch to begin planting, the debate of when to plant also begins. While planting early may provide a yield boost, cold, wet soils common in early spring can lead to yield reductions caused by poor seedling emergence and reduced plant populations. If farmers have to plant in poor field conditions, there are some management opportunities that can help reduce soil compaction issues.

One major yield robber caused by wet soils is sidewall compaction. As planter disk openers slice through wet soil, the sides of the furrows harden as they dry, inhibiting root growth and emergence. The repercussions from sidewall compaction can affect the crop throughout the season and in subsequent years.

To avoid packing down the seedbed during planting, reduce the pressure on the planter. Farmers can also consider different closing wheels or a spike wheel—the best source of information about planter options would be the manufacturer or local equipment dealer.

Limiting traffic on the seedbed is another opportunity to reduce soil compaction. Planting with a global positioning system (GPS) helps farmers drive the same track repeatedly to minimize excess compaction on the seedbed. Try to keep the direction of spring tillage and the planting direction as similar as possible. Even a five-degree variance in field position can spread compaction across a field. 

Finally, check planter performance. Dig around in the seed furrow following the planter and check back on planted fields to monitor performance across soil types and planting conditions. As field conditions change, update your planter settings as needed. It’s the small changes to improve seedbed conditions that can have a big impact on crop performance.

Whitney Monin

Channel Technical Agronomist

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