Field evaluation of traffic-induced compaction and its potential impact on soil physical characteristics and crop yield

Progress report for GNC19-286

Project Type: Graduate Student
Funds awarded in 2019: $14,982.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2022
Grant Recipients: South Dakota State University; South Dakota State University
Region: North Central
State: South Dakota
Graduate Student:
Faculty Advisor:
Dr. Sandeep Kumar
South Dakota State University
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Project Information


This pilot study was inspired by the wet weather harvests in 2018 (the wettest year in the past 50 years according to USEPA) throughout the north-central and upper Midwest regions of the United States. Crops were harvested with less-than-ideal field conditions and hence, deep soil compaction and ruts were observed in many farms due to agricultural machinery (e.g., tractors, combines and grain wagons). The trend was similar in the following year, 2019: wet spring and delayed planting forced backwards the harvesting dates. So, we conducted field demonstrations on the producer’s farm having corn and soybean crops, to project compaction influence on soil physical properties and crop yield.

This study is still in progress and the results/outcomes have not been yet been published or shared with producers due to technical difficulties imposed by COVID-19 and crop failures due to drought. Nevertheless, while conducting experiments in the harvest season of 2019, we noticed the immediate negative impact of agricultural machinery. After freezing, experiments were again performed during Spring-2020 to study to what extent freeze-thaw reduced the compaction generated in previous harvests. We realized that some of the compaction has been alleviated on the Plankinton site, which is having a long-term history of a no-till system and the producer is following the 5-yr diverse crop rotations (corn-soybean-corn-soybean-wheat). In others, the impact of traffic machinery was still evident after freezing and relatively more in the conventional-tilled fields compared to the no-tilled fields.

Project Objectives:

The proposed project is being completed in the following objectives

  1. Demonstrate and investigate the extent of soil damage caused by field traffic in terms of soil compaction measurements.
  2. Evaluate the effect of traffic on the succeeding crop performance by measuring dry matter and grain yield after post-traffic in the
    wheel-rut and non-trafficked area.
  3. Disseminate the project outcomes to producers, stakeholders, students and research professionals in South Dakota and other states in the
    North Central region through a variety of Extension and educational activities and approaches such as field tours, presentations, publications,
    and websites.


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Materials and methods:

Demonstration sites: We selected 4 unique locations to set up our field demonstrations during the harvest season of 2019. Three study sites (Freeman, Hutchinson County; Plankinton, Aurora County and Red Rock Township, Minnehaha County) were located in South Dakota and one located at Gales Township, Redwood County, Minnesota. However, no. of sub-fields and no. of blocks/replications in each location varies. Freeman site did not contain any subfield but had seven blocks of two treatments: ‘control’ vs ‘traffic’ of the combine with 180 bushels of soybeans load in addition to the weight of the combine. At Plankinton, four blocks were made of two treatments: ‘control’ vs ‘traffic’. Soil cores and other measurements were performed twice within each block during one sampling time. At Gales Township, we made two sub-fields: a single pass and a double pass experiment of a combined load of tractor and grain cart full of soybeans. In both subfields, 5 blocks were made of ‘control’ vs ‘traffic’ and each block was sampled twice to contain within block variability. At Red Rock township, we selected two side-by-side fields, representing the long-term no-till and conventional-till practices of two different producers. Due to the large variability within sites, we made two blocks in each field representing 'upslope' and 'downslope' and replicated them five times within each slope area. 

The first task in each demonstration site was to do compaction measurements with the availability of producer types of equipment. In some experiments, grain carts and tractors (e.g., Plankinton, Gales and Red Rocks Township's) were used and in the Freeman site, only combine weight was applied. So, the load in each experiment is different. There were sufficient replications (blocks) were made to draw a representative sample to conduct the experiments. For physical measurements, soil penetration resistance and bulk density were conducted. Other information, such as weight of machinery, wheel load, width of tires,  soil management and field operations information were collected from the producer during the field visits. In the next year, spring-2020, we were not able to collect the samples from Gales Township because of COVID restrictions due to out of state travel. However, the other three sites followed the normal sampling procedure just like the fall-2019. In this study, we were not able to collect agronomic measurements because of crop failures. 

Data Collection: After trafficking, measurements were taken within each wheel rut and from the non-trafficked area. Measurements within the wheel rut were taken at the deepest point of the cross-sectional area, corresponding to the area displaced by the tyre lug. We used the standard procedures described in the Methods of Soil Analysis, Part 4 – Physical Methods (Dane and Topp, 2002) to perform measurements of soil bulk density and penetration resistance. These measurements guide us about soil compaction and soil strength. Soil moisture content was measured simultaneously at each of the locations using disturbed samples that were analyzed using the gravimetric method. 

Research results and discussion:

Results will be reported in the next report.

Participation Summary
5 Farmers participating in research

Educational & Outreach Activities

4 On-farm demonstrations
8 Tours
Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.