In the summer of 2008, after wet weather in much of the central United States, soils began to dry, and farmers felt an urgent need to get in the field as quickly as possible to prepare soils and plant as the optimum planting window narrowed. As a result, some soils may have been tilled at moisture levels that were prime for increased compaction at the bottom of the implement’s depth of travel. Soil compaction may have also increased more than normal beneath tractor wheels and the tracks of heavy fertilizer, herbicide and seed tender machinery.
Plant experts often say that high yields of good quality crops don’t result from any one factor (such as fertilizer application, or planting the best variety), but to a whole set of effective management inputs, generally defined as “best management practices.” Keeping the importance of best management practices top of mind, it’s instructive to consider the interactions of soil fertility and soil compaction in affecting plant growth.
Soil scientists and consultants often get confronted with these questions: “My soil analysis showed a high level of nutrient ‘X.’ Is all this ‘X’ actually available for uptake by plants? Might I see a response to applications of ‘X’?”