Colossal combines and behemoth buggies might be the leading compaction culprits in autumn, but tractors and seeders can cause compaction in spring too.
Technologies exist to reduce the compaction risk in spring, but are they worth the investment?
Why it matters: Planters pose a compaction risk when driven on damp spring soils.
The move from traditional box planters to more centre-fill seeding systems concentrates weight, making compaction from the middle of such machines a more acute concern. Companies such as Fendt have responded by developing equipment designed to nullify the issue.
The company’s line of centre-fill Momentum planters, for example, employ a weight distribution system, tire inflation-deflation technology, as well as an in-line wheel design.
Research from AGCO, Fendt’s American parent corporation, indicates these technologies significantly reduce height losses in corn planted in seeder and tractor tracks. Yield data for these trials is expected later in this year, although company researchers anticipate the observed improvements in height will correlate with improved yields.
But a Momentum planter with all the bells and whistles — or any similar machine — isn’t exactly a cheap solution to planter compaction problems.
For Alex Barrie, soil management engineer and compaction researcher with the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, variations in soil profile, water filtration levels, traffic in previous seasons, and the ability of soil types to handle and recover from compaction are all factors to consider when discussing the true impact of planter-induced compaction.
“I don’t know if I need a lot of data to say compacting your soil is bad. It’s when you start to really pick apart if a tire does better than another,” he says. “You still have to drive on the soil at planting. Regardless of the damage done, some will be damaged, and some will not.
“You can still make your yield on short corn.”
While Barrie reiterates that any attempt to reduce compaction is a good thing, determining one’s return-on-investment can be challenging.
“The (Momentum) planter is a good piece of kit because it has everything you might think to put on after the fact, but you’re paying for it,” he says. However, his experience shows producers who have adopted compaction mitigation-systems see their investment as positive, if not one they should have made earlier.
“The more you get used to a tool the more it feels like a good idea. The more manufacturers get onboard with this tech, the easier it will be for people to adopt it.”
Jake Kraayenbrink, president of AgriBrink, an Ontario company that markets tire inflation-deflation systems, says the impact of hard tires rolling over damp spring soils should not be underestimated, particularly when growers enter the field too early.
While planter-induced compaction is garnering a lot of attention, it’s important not to overlook potentially more critical factors.
“The big thing is still the tires you start with. Tire deflation system will help, but the smaller tires have less room to move that pressure compared to large tires,” says Kraayenbrink.
“We’re finding, too, people put a lot of attention on the planter, but the tractor itself should also be considered. People forget the tractor is pulling. It’s exerting weight. The power it needs to pull, the harder that tire is, I think it has a very negative effect.
“Sometimes we focus on one thing and we’ve lost the big picture. It’s not always the heaviest piece that does the most damage.”