Follow-up field day on soil compaction planned

August 10, 2004|by DON SCHWARTZ

"Correcting Compaction on Dairy Farms," a field day and farm demonstration, will be held at the Charles Wiles farm on Falling Waters Road near Williamsport on Tuesday, Aug. 24, beginning at 10 a.m. Since lunch will be provided courtesy of UAP Northeast, please call the Washington County Extension Office at 301-791-1304 if you plan to attend.

This field day is a follow-up to the one held last October at the same location, where Mr. Wiles cooperated with the Extension Office, Binkley-Hurst, and UAP Northeast to look at the impact of soil compaction on our crops, particularly corn, and examine alternatives to deal with this problem.

At the first field day, we worked part of a compacted corn field with a disk, subsoiler and a zone tiller. Each of these treatment areas was trenched with a backhoe so that we could examine how each piece of tillage equipment affected the compaction layers down through the soil. Briefly, the disk cut the soil to about six inches deep. The subsoiler broke up the ground quite well. The zone tiller completely fractured the compaction layers with minimal soil surface disturbance.


After the field day last October, the entire corn field was divided into four long strips and worked with the disk in one plot area, the subsoiler in the next, and the zone tiller in the third plot area. The fourth plot area was treated with a UAP bacterial product called SuperBio. This product is sprayed on the soil surface and these specialized bacteria accelerate nature's process of rebuilding soil structure.

The field day this August will allow us to examine each treatment's impact on soil structure and the ability of the corn roots to reach deep into the soil.

The 2004 season has not been as wet as 2003, when almost every trip across the field was on wet soil. But every field will be subjected to machinery traffic under wet conditions sooner or later. This is particularly true on the dairy farm, where manure hauling, spring forage harvest and late summer corn silage harvest all have to be done on time, regardless of soil conditions. A double-crop forage system may require as many as 10 trips across the field each year in a no-till system! Then if we add tillage, we are grinding the soil into a smooth seedbed. Add water and pressure from machinery traffic and we have soil compaction all over again.

It is interesting how many times over the years I have been out in the field with a farmer trying to explain that we cannot grow a crop on top of the soil if we cannot grow the root system under the soil. This is not a difficult concept to understand, but managing our soils for long-term health and productivity is, unfortunately, not a part of our day-to-day agronomic thought process where all of our agronomic practices will show results in no more than 120 days.

A farmer will make a lifetime investment in buying a farm or put decades of work into developing the offspring of that one cow. But how many farmers make that same focused investment of time and management into improving the health and productivity of their soils?

Well, let me get down off my soapbox and encourage folks to come on over to the Wiles farm on Aug. 24. We will look at our soil treatments and see if we enhanced root growth to grow a better crop of corn. Binkley-Hurst will have a couple of McCormick tractors to test drive after lunch, and UAP Northeast also has a plot area of 10 Mycogen silage corn varieties to look at.

Don Schwartz is an Extension agent, specializing in agriculture and natural resources, for the University of Maryland Cooperative Extension. He is based in Washington County. He can be reached weekdays by telephone at 301-791-1304, ext. 16, or by e-mail at

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