Innovative Farmers take action on compaction

What happens when 400 innovative farmers, a team of agronomy and extension specialists, and a leading soil compaction researcher descend on an Ontario farm? You get Compaction Action – likely the most ambitious and insightful ‘hands-on’ farm research day ever attempted in the province.

The event, hosted by the Innovative Farmers Association of Ontario (IFAO), featured compaction researcher Matthias Stettler from Bern University, Switzerland.

After two days of preparation at the demonstration site at Shawridge Farms in Arthur, Ontario, Stettler and his team unveiled a host of tools and technology to measure compaction damage caused by farm equipment. Throughout the day, farmers watched as $20 million worth of assembled equipment – from combines to pickup trucks and many different tractor-implement configurations – were tested to assess their compaction footprint using in-ground sensors that produced instantaneous results, which were posted on a large video screen.

As the equipment rolled over the sensors, Stettler and his team evaluated the compaction impact of tractors, grain carts, sprayers and manure tankers, and also compared tires versus tracks.

In this video, Stettler and Real Agriculture resident agronomist Peter Johnson review and wrap-up the day’s events and insights. Stettler offers a harsh assessment of the impact compaction can have on crop yield. He says tire inflation pressure is the most important factor in managing topsoil compaction and recommends that farmers run their tires at a maximum 15 psi.

As he demonstrated with stress tests conducted at a six-inch soil depth, running above the 15 psi level will compact the root zone and cause up to five per cent yield loss annually, which can accumulate to 20 per cent yield loss long term.

Throughout the testing, soil stress levels were also measured at the subsoil, a 20-inch depth. Stettler says at this level, compaction takes place when pressure exceeds 7.5 psi. Here, soil stress can produce a permanent three per cent yield loss each year.

Stettler also tells Johnson how impressed he was with Nuhn’s “Rubber Railroad” slurry tank unit and how a 43-tonne tank can move across the field at 10 psi tire pressure.

When it comes to the tracks versus tires debate, Stettler says rubber tracks, and their larger soil contact area, offer the possibility to reduce soil stress. However, he points out that tracks are typically used on very heavy machinery, which deliver high levels of subsoil stress despite the large contact area. He also notes that stress distribution is not uniform on tracks with clear peaks under the wheels and rollers.

Compaction Action research results will be posted on the IFAO website as soon as they have been compiled.

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