Sudden Soil Density Change Training Session

Grantee: Conservation Action Project
Basin Program Funds: $ 4,600 (Approved)
Non-federal Funds: $ 19,090 (Proposed)
Project Duration: 07/1999 - 00/0000
Status: ongoing

Problem Statement
Farmers in the Ohio Lake Erie basin estimate that their annual corn yields are reduced by almost 10 percent, their soybeans by 7 percent and wheat by 5 percent due to soil compaction associated with conservation tillage practices. This translates to an average loss of $18,000 per farm annually. These kinds of losses proved discouraging to farmers who began to return to traditional farming practices in order to increase their yields.

Soil compaction is caused by heavy farm equipment moving repeatedly over crop fields. With conservation tillage, the first four inches of the field is relatively lightly compacted in structure because it is broken up during tilling. The next layer deep, at approximately seven inches, is more dense with soil particles much more tightly packed. Plant root systems grow to relatively wide diameters in the first layer of the soil and, because of this, are unable to penetrate the deeper and more compact layers below. This means plants cannot benefit from moisture and nutrients deeper in the soil and yields are subsequently reduced.

Working in partnership with the Wood County Con-till Club, local soil and water conservation districts, The Ohio Sate University Extension and Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center, Conservation Action Plan of Ohio (CAP) received a Great Lakes Basin Program grant to address the problem of soil compaction associated with conservation tillage. CAP retained Ken Ferrie, a consultant who works with farmers on a range of soil fertility and crop issues, to help teach better conservation tillage practices to the farm population in the northwest Ohio counties of Defiance, Fulton, Henry, Lucas, Paulding, Williams and Woods.

CAP and partners hosted three workshops that reached 188 farmers in the seven, northwest Ohio counties. Ken Ferrie outlined the problems associated with compacted layers in the soil, how to identify the condition, what causes the problem and what can be done to avoid it. Ferrie noted that discs, coulters and plows were the tilling implements causing the most severe horizontal compaction. Chisel plowing, Ferrie noted, was the best system for managing horizontal laying, but blending the soil and taking out the deepest layer may take a number of years to accomplish. The best approach is to undertake light fall tilling because freezing allows the soil to expand and contract over the winter, reducing the effect of horizontal layers.

CAP undertook an exit survey of farmers attending the sessions. Eight-three percent of farmers attending indicated that they believed soil compaction was limiting crop yields on their farms by as much as 5 to 9 percent. When asked to compare their farming practices in 1999 to what they had done in 1993, they reported farming over 790 acres in 1999 compared to 674 acres in 1993. In 1999 almost 65 percent of their crop was planted as no-till, while in 1993 only 55 percent had been no-till. Interestingly, the amount of acres in soybean and wheat tillage had increased by 22 percent and 9 percent respectively, while corn grown under no-till had declined by 4 percent. These sessions will enable attending farmers to overcome the compaction problems associated with reduced yields and, hopefully, reverse the downward trend in no-till corn acreage in the Ohio Lake Erie basin.

Contact: Conservation Action Project, 419-592-9692


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