The Drumbeat of Understanding the Issues of Soil Compaction – Ideas on Minimizing Compaction

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Published January 28, 2020 | By Mike Petersen


From the late 60’s early 70’s , the Mama’s and Papa’s as well as Sonny and Cher sang the song about “The Beat Goes On”.  Yes I date myself rather quickly but these musicians wrote the lyrics about music going through our heads from time to time.  Here I bring  an issue that is always worth commenting about, especially us who work in the realm of Tillage.  You as a grower or consultant who deal with compaction in nearly every season may have a reasonable understanding how this limiting set of layers happen in the soil where you plant seeds. But allow me to add some firewood to the winters fireplace or stove.


I was reading more information from some field research that was accomplished recently at Ohio State University and some in-depth conversations from Ian McDonald, scientist from Ontario Ministry of Agriculture.  Too often in the field we inadvertently run the same tire air pressure that we do ‘roading’ our tractors or combines into the field and think nothing of it.  Pulling a grain cart (>1000bu capacity) on a road generally requires higher air pressure.  But going in a field this is very unwise for the negative impacts to soil in the upper 20 inches (50cm), especially when above 80% of field capacity moisture content.


“What matters in soil compaction is the mass of the total load, the pressure that is applied, how that load is distributed over the soil and where the soil moisture level is,” McDonald said. “The greater the soil moisture level (higher percentage of field capacity)( FC), the greater the potential for compaction to occur.”  This scientist is saying the same things I have as well as others before me; tire pressure makes such a difference in whether or not you are inserting compaction and limiting your crops potential, water and nutrient movement and cash flow.
There is so much more we can do to limit compaction from being the limiting factor that haunts so many growing row crops around the world.  New efforts of research from Ohio State University show that weights of 10 ton axle load showed nominal yield loss in soil conditions drier than 60% of FC.  But under conditions like we saw so much in the spring months of 2019, losses are 10% and more. Increase the axle load to 20 tons, oh here it comes.  Losses jumped to 20% to 25% when compacted in a much wetter state.  What can we, you do?


Tire companies have devised the IF and VF tires for the tractor and combine.  The tire companies out there who supply tractor tires and rims have the Increased Flexion [IF] and Very High Flexion [VF] tires to support the loads and pulling needs of your tractors.  So load up a new 370hp tractor with sidetanks of 400 gallons each side of the frame, 38970 lbs without tanks/frame/fluid.  480R50 tractor tires, no weights.  Add the fluid of 800 gallons at 11.2lbs/gallon – 8960lbs, the tank system is another 800-1000 lbs.  Now we are up to 48,900+ lbs or 24.45tons.  Add a planter, seed, whether it is three point or drawbar, we are adding weight onto the tractor to pull it.  The tractor tires and rims are designed to handle these loads, distribute the weight  and travel across the soil.  But during that it puts a heavy load on the soil especially with 15 to 25 psi in the tires.  In a little bit I offer a website to read up on IF & VF tires/rims.

Image Above:

From No-Till Farmer – Heavy One-Pass planting operation. Could he be inserting compaction?


Why all the hullabaloo of this compaction issue?  “I rip and chisel my soil every year” will be many growers statement.  Ladies and gentlemen, it is always the last pass before you plant and then… it is what you do while you are planting.  Large frame tractors, 24, 32, 36, 48 row planters with all those wheels and tires, products on the tractor, on the planter, in a commodity cart or all the above whether it is dry or liquid – the load/footprint on the ground that makes the difference.  Are we in there too early when the soils are still near field capacity at 6 inches and deeper?  I realize very vividly that sometimes the choices are get in the field and make it happen like 2019.  Hey I am not passing judgement, it is the condition before me that I can wait 24 to 48 hours?  Then if I am in a geography that wet soils are a norm then tire selection or track tractors if at all feasible should considered how tillage and planting is done.


Along that line of thinking employing IF or VF tires and rims may be real options.  The technology of those tires and rims or tracks either straight or “Quad-trac” type tracks will surely reduce downforce on the soil, spread out the weight and reduce the loading vertically that can compress soils to squeeze soil pores, smear soil particles together, and break down vertical structure units.


A great discussion of IF/VF tires is on this site: .  Some valuable information that made me think hard.


Every Extension Service bulletin written about ‘Soil Compaction‘ that has been written across the States and in other countries, soil compaction is effected by air pressure, weight per axle, speed and yes, soil moisture.  I know I have been a co-author for one of those bulletins in my home state of Colorado.


What does this have to do with 2020 and what you are planning on in three months to four?  Have you considered what is the capacity of your large framed tractor for weight when you plant?  Are you having to apply downforce more each year to make sure the seed is getting two inches deep?  Up to 400 pounds?  Did you purchase a different or new planter recently and went 24 or 36 rows wide this year to cover ground faster to meet the self imposed 10 day rule?  You maybe setting yourself up for compaction to become the tyrant of your farm.


Take it from me folks, I have been studying compaction issues since the very early 1980’s all across our great nation, I have dug soil pits in every known soil texture that I know of as a soil scientist, I have been in No-Till, Strip Till, Ridge Till and full width multiple tillage pass conditions – compaction can be and is a serious limiting factor to production. We know here at Orthman Manufacturing that we can deal with/mitigate compaction prior to the planting operation and help the farmer set things in motion for when he/she plants the 2020 crop.  The Orthman 1tRIPr and placing some of the nutrition that you believe is necessary to raise your crop is part of the solution to keeping compaction from becoming the 800 pound unhappy gorilla in the shed where the planter is stored.


Back to the song I mentioned in the first line of this blog, I will beat the drum of dealing with compaction, knowing how to identify and offer you quantifying information of what compaction will do.  Why?  So you as growers of our nations foodstuffs become informed, know of options to deal with the 800 lb gorilla. The gorilla doesn’t go away because you wish it to.


Credit and Appreciation goes to  Ohio AgNet – Ohio’s Country Journal for the information from Dr. McDonald in Ontario.




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