The Dirt on Conservation: Challenges of the wet harvest season

Do you ever get in a rut? I don’t mean like in your field or yard. The “rut” I’m talking about Webster describes as “a usual or fixed practice, a monotonous routine.”

Winter is that time for me, same old thing every day and the snow and ice make everything more difficult (my perspective!). I know I should see the beauty in the season but it always seems to escape me.

If this spring and summer are any indication of the amount of precipitation we are going to have this winter, I think we are all in trouble! Driving around Coshocton County, it isn’t hard to find the other “ruts” that the dictionary describes as “a track worn by a wheel or habitual passage; a groove in which something runs.”

Ruts

These ruts have been made by heavy harvest equipment on saturated soils. Anyone familiar with agriculture understands that it was difficult to prevent these ruts this year.

In our area, farmers haven’t been able to run more than three days in a row all season. Producers are still working to get their crops off and I can’t imagine the frustration of dealing with all this rain as your livelihood sits in the field getting soaked yet again.

According to Mark Hanna from the Iowa State University Extension, “the consequences of such wet conditions are significant soil compaction caused by heavy equipment and yield reductions that will be realized next season.

Compacted soil created beneath the rut may interfere with subsequent crop rooting and development. Ruts deeper than about two inches can also interfere with maintaining seed depth during planter operation next spring, unless they are leveled.

Heavy equipment

Compaction occurs when soil particles are pressed together reducing pore spaces which are important for water and air movement through the soil. Topsoil compaction is caused by contact pressure whereas lower subsoil compaction is caused by axle load (heavy equipment).

What can be done about these ruts? According to Melvin Lahmers, certified crop advisor at TMK Bakersville, it would be best to wait until spring to try and correct the problem by using light tillage to smooth over the ruts.

Melvin commented, “It will be tempting to do some tillage on some of these mornings when the ground is firm. The top layer of the soil may be dry but the soil underneath is saturated and I’m afraid we’ll do more damage than good.”

Melvin agreed that compaction could have some affect on yields in the coming year.

Not realistic

A recent article in the C.O. R. N. newsletter from The Ohio State University Extension by Sjoerd Duker, Penn State Soil Management Specialist, says that a loss of $50 per acre for rutting is not unrealistic. To see the complete article go to: http://corn.osu.edu/newsletters/2011/2011-40/#4.

In keeping with this holiday season, we need to be thankful for the bounty of our harvest through a very difficult growing season. I’m always amazed at the patience of our agricultural producers and this has been a year that has tested everyone.

As I’m trying to get myself through January and February, please remember to wait until spring to fix those ruts.

We will all be in a better frame of mind by then. Merry Christmas!

About the Author

Deb Bigelow was raised on a grain farm in Morrow County. She moved to the position of district administrator for the Coshocton SWCD in 2008 and has been working for the Knox SWCD as education coordinator since 1989. More Stories by Deb Bigelow

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