Counting the cost of compaction

  • A wet autumn has hampered planting and left some farmers using min and zero tillage establishment systems concerned about soil compaction

Waterlogging caused by soil compaction has been attributed to plateauing crop yields by the Potash Development Association, with some losses likely to reach 80%.

The PDA suggests that whilst little can be done to change the higher than average rainfalls experienced in many areas of the UK, farmers can take measures to reduce compaction.

Machinery and tyre specialists, such as Continental’s Tom Godwin, have been working with farmers to explain the technology available to help reduce the impact of heavy machinery on soils.

“Managing tyre pressures using pressure monitoring systems and choosing VF tyres to operate at 40% less pressure than standard radial tyres will make a significant difference to soil health. This will be particularly prevalent in min-till and zero tillage systems when operators are not turning over land to alleviate or remove compaction,” says Mr Godwin.

In a November report the PDA suggests that yield losses due to waterlogging may vary between 15% and 80% in 2023/24, depending on the crop species and growth stage, soil type and duration of the stress, which will result in severe economic penalties. The report says:

“Establishment is the most critical period in any annual crop’s life-cycle, as it is the time when the yield potential is set…and that…any management decisions taken from this point onwards only helps limit the reduction in this yield potential.”

Mr Godwin echoes this, saying:

“Continental has been working with farms for five years, as part of our Stamp Out Soil Compaction initiative, to help improve land management decisions through the use of more efficient tyres. Our TractorMaster tyres have been specifically designed to reduce compaction by operating at lower pressures and we are always looking for ways to explain these benefits to operators who want to improve soil health.”

It is widely accepted that compacted and waterlogged soils block oxygen supply to roots, restrict root growth and reduce nutrient uptake. As the wet weather has taken its toll again in 2023, it is hoped that with investments in tyre technology the severity of the problem can be reduced in the future.

“It is easy to say that waterlogging is just the effect of heavy rainfall and gloss over the real issue. Farms that have understood the threat and changed their tyres to minimise the impact of heavy machinery on soil will suffer less now, and in the future, with soil compaction and waterlogging,” he concludes.

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