What Is Soil Compaction, and Why Do I Need to Do It?

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Large-scale agriculture leaves several after-effects, both good and bad, on the environment. On a global scale, the return to natural living can and will result in a healthier state for people and the planet, but we must guard against local and immediate repercussions on the land and surrounding elements.  

A few commonly known effects include, but are not limited to, land conversion, habitat loss and accidental wasteful water consumption. As agriculture becomes more widespread and farming tools and machines improve, rare situations like soil compaction become more commonplace.

Agriculture’s Effects on Soil

Agriculture will inevitably affect the soil. Whether that effect comes in the form of soil erosion and degradation, loss of moisture and deforestation or even full-blown desertification, the future of your field depends on constant vigilance. Some of the rarer occurrences, such as soil compaction, have become more frequent due to the wider use of heavy industrial farming equipment and continuous-row crop planting.

Soil Compaction & Structure

Soil compaction appears in operational fields that are being worked while the earth is wet and susceptible to clumping. A relatively rare occurrence, the threat of soil compaction can alter your soil’s ability to hold and conduct water, nutrients and air — all of which are vital to healthy plant growth and productivity.

Expected yields and potential crop rotations are all impacted by soil structure damage, which is facilitated by compaction. Soil compaction has a particularly dire effect in drought years, as it can lead to stunted and stressed crops and plants.

When Compaction Is a Good Thing

For farmers, the prospect of compacted soil does not bode well. But there are instances when having a dense layer of soil can and will serve as a benefit. Overall, soil compaction does not necessarily mean the land has been polluted or rendered unusable. It simply means the earth has layered onto itself and become impervious to water circulation. In agricultural circles, this phenomenon is called a “hardpan.”

If you intend to build a home on farmland, add a separate outbuilding or install a driveway, a hardpan will do nicely. While other topsoil and subsoil areas run the risk of flooding or crumbling during the weather effects of the seasons, hardpan soil remains compacted, serving as a perfect foundation source for architectural purposes.

It’s important you use the correct type of machinery on your farmland. To convert your hard, compacted land into something useful outside of farming or animal grazing, you should clarify the type of work you intend to do. The length and breadth of the area will help you determine if you need a large piece of equipment or a smaller, more handheld implement.

A smaller compactor has great maneuverability. Choosing the right tool will affect whether you develop the compacted land correctly or ruin the subsoil layers for any use at all.

Identifying Soil Compaction

Some of the visual cues to identify the presence of soil compaction include waterlogging on the surface or subsurface layers of soil, changes in soil structure without weather or human facilitation, and a visible reduction of porosity. Even dirt color or smell can illustrate soil compaction — pay attention if your soil begins to turn blue-gray or starts emitting a hydrogen sulfide scent.

Other methods of identifying soil compaction include measuring soil strength with the use of a penetrometer, a device created to measure soil resistance and vegetation. Crops grow in a noticeable pattern. When soil compaction begins to take place, it impacts root growth, and the colors of your crop leaves will correspondingly begin to pale. Spotting soil compaction early will make the treatment of the land easier and the recovery faster, and it will also protect your incoming harvest from getting ruined.

Preventive Measures

To ensure your soil does not begin to compact and interrupt the growth of your crops, try not to operate machinery on wet soil. When operating heavy tillage equipment, make sure it’s balanced in weight, in peak operational order, and that its blades are well-sharpened. With a bit of foresight, you can prevent soil compaction completely by creating a lane specifically for your industrial equipment to travel.

Final Thoughts

When living a self-sustainable lifestyle, it’s important to use tools and machinery properly, but your ability to adapt to unexpected circumstances can serve you best. When faced with the rare situation of soil compaction, try to see the opportunity in the development, not just the money and time you’ll need to spend to correct the problem.