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Agronomy Update April 2019

April 15, 2019

MANAGEMENT

By Dave Dyson, Agronomist

As the days get longer and temperatures rise, the drive to get in the field becomes more overpowering. The long-term forecast shows the higher precipitation pattern that we’ve seen so far this year is likely to persist into spring. In addition, according to NOAA, the temperature gradient is amplified more than normal this early spring, meaning a colder north and warmer south. This will help fuel spring storms and keep weather active. The outlook through May calls for temperatures near or slightly below normal with precipitation above normal. These conditions, along with an itchy trigger finger on spring fieldwork, could spell trouble for the health of your soil.

If fields are still wet, avoid the urge to begin fieldwork until they dry out. Soil compaction is most likely to occur when soil moisture is at or near field capacity, when soil pores are filled with equal amounts of air and water. Under these conditions, aggregates can be "lubricated" by water and readily reposition themselves through the air spaces under heavy traffic and farm equipment.  

The most devastating and longest lasting compaction is deep subsoil compaction. The chief reason for subsoil compaction is high axle loads driven over saturated soils (figure 1). The definition of an axle load is the total load supported by one axle, usually expressed in tons or pounds. Farm equipment with high axle loads will cause deep compaction.

Figure 1: Research from Penn State University indicates axle loads of 10 tons or more have a significant increase in subsoil compaction.

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