Identification and Remediation of Compaction on Northeast Pasture Soils

Progress report for LNE19-372

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2019: $95,906.00
Projected End Date: 07/31/2021
Grant Recipient: Cornell Cooperative Extension of Cortland County
Region: Northeast
State: New York
Project Leader:
A.Fay Benson
Cornell Co-op Extension
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Project Information

Performance Target:

Twenty livestock grazing operations change their grazing management to adopt practices known to reduce compaction on 1,000 acres of pasture.

Introduction:

The slow and furtive nature of soil compaction on Northeast pasture soils has led to erosion and declining productivity on farms where compaction is not managed. The consequences of compaction are often present without the farmer’s knowledge due to its accumulating affect. Since compaction is increased when soils are moist, the pastures of the Northeast are especially at risk to future compaction with the prediction of increased rainfall events of two inches or more due to climate change. Compaction in pasture soil is a problem as it leads to less macropores in the soil that benefit rainfall infiltration, soil water holding capacity, root penetration, and reduced rhizosphere activity which is the point of plant, and soil biology symbiotic functions. This project will address this problem in three ways:

  1. In the first year we will have two pasture soil compaction trainings for pasture educators from Pennsylvania, New York, Maine, Vermont, and New Hampshire.
  2. We will follow up with these educators over two summers to have pasture events in their areas using the New York Soil Health Trailer. At these events participants will use a penetrometer to measure compaction resistance in the pasture and compare it to the soil under the fence line. This activity will demonstrate the existence of compaction in pasture soil and introduce the farmers to the concept of Pasture Soil Compaction Ratio (PCR) which is the ratio of the pasture soil resistance and the fence line soil resistance.
  3. The educators who hold the events will follow up with the host farm to measure the PCR in the same area at different times over the year. These ratios will be compared to see if the PCR could be used to measure pasture management changes.

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand/collapse or show everyone's info
  • Nancy Glazier (Educator)
  • Dr. Larry Hepner (Educator)
  • Robert Schindlbeck (Educator and Researcher)

Research

Hypothesis:

A single reading of soil resistance will vary from one day to the next due to soil moisture changes. Our hypothesis is that by taking two readings, one from the optimum compaction area under the fence line and one from an impacted area in the pasture, the ratio of the two will remain constant since whatever variable impacts one area will have the same impact on the other area. The ratio of the two areas will relate to the farmer’s management at preventing compaction. In the equation Optimum divided by Impacted, the quotient closer to 1 will be beneficial.

Materials and methods:

Each of our educators will collect multiple pasture and fence line soil resistance readings from the same paddock area though out the project. From these readings a corresponding Pasture Compaction Ratio (PCR) will be determined. We will then graph how the PCR changes as the soil moisture changes. Below is an example of one of the paddocks we are testing.

Adams PCR first year

To see the research activities for 2020, see below in Results and Discussion

Research results and discussion:

2019 SEASON

In our proposal we stated that we would use the soil resistance under the fence (fenceline). Since it can be considered to have the “optimum compaction” for the soil since no animal or machinery has access to it. These readings will be compared to readings taken within 20 feet of the fence line in the pasture where compaction has taken place. The comparison of the two readings will be called the “Pasture Compaction Ratio” (PCR=fenceline/pasture). Our study of using this ratio will have multiple benefits:

  1. First showing the difference between these two relatively close points in the same paddock will help alert the farmer to the presence of compaction.
  2. Second we wanted to test the repeatability or the standard deviation for the PCR over different soil moisture and temperature conditions. If there was little variation in the PCR as soil moisture and conditions change, it would allow the PCR to be a tool to measure management changes to the pasture.

The project held 12 on-farm events with 436 attendees in 2019. At each one of these we collected data at the host farm needed to calculate the PCR. By collecting this data we were able to demonstrate the first benefit of measuring the PCR. Farmers and other attendees. Many were surprised by the difference in compaction readings from the penetrometer. One educator in Maine expressed "Holy Moly" when doing the comparison. This data collection by attendees helped highlight the existence of compaction in pastures.

The second benefit of exploring the repeatability of the PCR as soil moisture changes was difficult to determine from the limited data in the first year. We only had three sets of data on comparing the resistance of the pasture soil to the fence line resistance. The PCR varies from .469 to .672 on four readings from different dates, and on another it ranges from .450 to .458 on four readings. To prove our hypothesis we would need more readings like the .450 - .458. 

Part of the problem in collecting more data points was because our penetrometer calibrations only go to 300 lbs in2 . The gauge goes up more but there are no numbers to read. During the summer months many of the pasture readings are over 300 lbs in2 so in order to collect readings we will calibrate the gauge to be able to measure higher readings. In the photo below it shows the gauge on the penetrometer we purchased for the project. Even though the numbered scale ends at 300 we will use a scale to mark higher readings on the scale.

The scale on many penetrometers only go to 300 lbs in2. In order to do our study we will calibrate to be able to read higher numbers.

 

2020 SEASON

This year, due to Covid, our on-farm events were curtailed and so extra effort was put into the research component of the project. This has allowed for nine paddocks to be visited and were tested 8-10 times. Our original proposal had four paddocks with three visits over the grazing season. The following are the results of pasture compaction readings from nine paddocks in Central New York. Not all paddocks had the same number of readings since during the dry time of the summer of 2020, some of the paddocks had readings which surpassed the maximum of 500 lbs./inch2 which could be read by the penetrometer.

Testing the Hypothesis The goal of evaluating the PCR as a way to measure a management change in a paddock was clearly demonstrated by the work at the Adam's paddock. This 60 acre paddock was chosen because it was a poorly managed pasture. It had a set stocking rate which did not change with the paddock's ability to provide forage for the herd of 60 beef animals. This situation had continued for more than 10 years. The result was the farmer continuously fed dry hay throughout the year. Over time the sward of the paddock had reduced to mostly Bluegrass which can take tight browsing but is not a high forage producing specie. In November of 2019 an enclosure was installed in the paddock. (see photo) We collected the pasture and fenceline compaction readings and found that the difference was the paddock had twice as high compaction as the fenceline resulting in a PCR of .48 during the 2019 season.

This enclosure was erected on Adam's severely compacted paddock 11/25/2019.

This table shows the change in PCR of the enclosure and the paddock changed from April 2020 to November 2020. The only difference was that the enclosure kept animal traffic off from the soil. The paddock PCR changed from 0.48 in April to 0.67. If the PCR was a perfect tool for comparing compaction management from one date to the next the two PCR readings would have been the same. The enclosure PCR shows a much greater change from 0.50 in April to 0.86 in November. The reader should remember that the closer to1.0 means there is less compaction since the fenceline reading is the optimum since there is no animal or machinery compaction. To view the Adam's paddock and enclosure data in graph form see the attached document PCR Graph Descriptions2 . The data collection file is also attached, PCR Data4

To date we have found that using the PCR can help in monitoring management changes. With more readings added next year we hope to offer farmers a range of repeatability of using the ratio.

 

DATE Paddock lbs./in2 Fenceline lbs./in2

Paddock PCR

Enclosure lbs./in2 Fenceline lbs./in2 Enclosure PCR  
4/7/2020 181.25 87.5 0.48 175 87.5 0.50  
11/9/2020 225.00 150 0.67 175 150 0.86  

 

 

Participation Summary
436 Farmers participating in research

Education

Educational approach:
  1. In the first year we will have two pasture soil compaction trainings for pasture educators from Pennsylvania, New York, Maine, Vermont, and New Hampshire.
  2. We will follow up with these educators over two summers to have pasture events in their areas using the New York Soil Health Trailer. At these events participants will use a penetrometer to measure compaction resistance in the pasture and compare it to the soil under the fence line. This activity will demonstrate the existence of compaction in pasture soil and introduce the farmers to the concept of Pasture Soil Compaction Ratio (PCR) which is the ratio of the pasture soil resistance and the fence line soil resistance.

Milestones

Milestone #1 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

20,000 farmers in the Northeast learn about the pasture compaction research and education project through an article written and circulated through publications such as OnPasture, NY Grazette, Northeast Country Folks, American Agriculturalist, and regional grazing publications. Readers will learn about the project and will be alerted of project activities and events. The article will also suggest farmers use push-in posts to compare compaction on their home farms.

Proposed number of farmer beneficiaries who will participate:
20000
Actual number of farmer beneficiaries who participated:
30000
Actual number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who participated:
200
Proposed Completion Date:
April 30, 2019
Status:
Completed
Date Completed:
October 30, 2019
Accomplishments:

Versions of this article, Compaction and Soil Health in Northeast Pastures Blog, were hosted at the following sites:

https://www.lancasterfarming.com/news/northern_edition/traveling-trailer-teaches-soil-health/article_80bbf926-26f4-5cbb-94c0-792f6555803f.html

https://www.google.com/url?sa=i&source=images&cd=&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=2ahUKEwjO_cC4n6nnAhVFlnIEHX6GATUQjB16BAgBEAM&url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.morningagclips.com%2Flearn-about-compaction-soil-health-in-northeast-pastures%2F&psig=AOvVaw363cha9cwoB_wtEXHuudYv&ust=1580402284300468

https://www.farmprogress.com/crops/soil-health-trailer-provides-tools-compaction

https://www.facebook.com/nysoilhealthtrailer/posts/?ref=page_internal

https://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/detail/ny/soils/health/?cid=nrcseprd1293219

https://www.la-basse-cour.com/blog/compaction-and-soil-health-northeast-pastures

New York Soil Health Trailer: Learn about Compaction and Soil Health in Northeast Pastures

Compaction and Soil Health in Northeast Pastures Blog

Milestone #2 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

30 grazing educators from the Northeast will attend a 6-hour training where they will be trained on soil health and compaction on grazing operations in the Northeast and this projects role in reducing compaction. The training will be given by Fay Benson, Larry Hepner and Bob Schindelbeck. After this training, educators will be asked to plan one pasture walk per year for the duration of the project. We will use a pre- and post-test at the training to evaluate learning.

Proposed number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who will participate:
30
Actual number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who participated:
19
Proposed Completion Date:
May 31, 2019
Status:
Completed
Date Completed:
December 29, 2020
Accomplishments:

We held two train-the-trainers meetings: One on April 26th in Hoosick Falls, north eastern NY, and another on May 3rd in Jasper, south western NY. Presenter's talks included: Fay Benson - Introduction to Pasture Soil Compaction, Larry Hepner - “Identifying Soil Structure Changes When Compacted”, and Bob Schindlbeck - “Plant/Soil Interaction and how it is affected by soil compaction”. We have decide to have another training in 2020 in order to meet our participant goal.

Soil Science Professor emeritus, Larry Hepner describes soil structure to one of the morning classes.
Jasper NY group stand next to the Soil Health Trailer discussing how an infiltration ring works.
Showing how compaction creates platy structure was a key message at the trainings.

 

 

Milestone #3 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

15 grazing educators plan at least one pasture walk each. The pasture walks will take place in New York, Pennsylvania, Vermont and Maine. The Soil Health Trailer will attend each event for a demonstration to reach a total of 300 farmers. Demonstrations include with the New York Soil Health Trailer, including the slake test, percolation test, active carbon test, rainfall simulator and compaction test.

Proposed number of farmer beneficiaries who will participate:
300
Proposed number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who will participate:
15
Actual number of farmer beneficiaries who participated:
400
Actual number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who participated:
30
Proposed Completion Date:
October 31, 2019
Status:
Completed
Date Completed:
October 19, 2019
Accomplishments:

Some of the educators who attended the trainings organized events in their area. We participated in 12 events but had the good fortune to have the Soil Health Trailer at "Grasstravaganza" We hosted "Pasture Soil Compaction" as one of four outdoor stations at the event. Each of the 110 attendees rotated through the presentations.

Grasstravaganz participants measured the soil resistance difference from within the pasture and then under the fence line. We explained the ratio is the concept of the Pasture Compaction Ratio, a potential tool for farmers to rate their pasture soil compaction.

2019 eventlist

Milestone #4 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

300 will work in groups to collect data points for the Pasture Compaction Ration. A total of 400 points will be collected from each pasture walk resulting in 4 Pasture Compaction Ratios per pasture walk.

Proposed number of farmer beneficiaries who will participate:
300
Actual number of farmer beneficiaries who participated:
400
Actual number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who participated:
30
Proposed Completion Date:
October 31, 2019
Status:
Completed
Date Completed:
October 19, 2019
Accomplishments:

At each event we supplied 4-5 penetrometers to teams to measure in the pasture and then under a near by fence line. The teams reported back their measurements and took plant ID's from each area. The exercise created a lot of interest at each event since there was such difference between the two areas. As Rick Kersbergen, Extension Associate from University of Maine, pushed the penetrometer into the fence line soil after having done the pasture readings declared "Holy Moley" His experience was similar to many who made the measurements.  

The rainfall simulator was used at each event. It was normally set up with three pans on the right from a corn field where there is different regimes in place. The pan second from the left was from a compacted pasture and the furthest pan on the left was from a rotationally grazed pasture. The water in the front jars showed run off. Water in the jars behind showed infiltration. This demonstration backed up our talk on compaction.
Milestone #5 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

15 grazing educators will return to the pasture walk location monthly to collect follow up compaction numbers. They will take an additional 10 points per farm per trip for two return months. This will result in 6 Pasture Compaction Ratios per farm.

Proposed number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who will participate:
15
Actual number of farmer beneficiaries who participated:
4
Actual number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who participated:
2
Proposed Completion Date:
October 31, 2019
Status:
Completed
Date Completed:
October 21, 2019
Accomplishments:

We received only follow up readings from three of our educators. This data is still being analyzed. Below is the result of one pasture that was analyzed.

 

Adams PCR first year

 

 

Milestone #6 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

20,000 farmers in the Northeast learn about the pasture compaction research and education project through an article written and circulated through publications such as OnPasture, NY Grazette, Northeast Country Folks, American Agriculturalist, and regional grazing publications. Readers will learn about the project and will be alerted of project activities and events. The article will also suggest farmers use push-in posts to compare compaction on their home farms.

Proposed number of farmer beneficiaries who will participate:
20000
Proposed Completion Date:
April 30, 2020
Status:
In Progress
Accomplishments:

Compaction and Soil Health in Northeast Pastures Blog

The Compaction Fact Sheet below was prepared during our 2019 tour. It was given out to the farmers who attended and also sent by email to those (about 10 individuals) that had questions  on how to manage pasture compaction. The Fact Sheet was also published in the South Central NY Dairy and Field Crop Digest. It was also uploaded to the NY Soil Health Trailer Facebook acct. 

Compaction Fact Sheet Final   

In order to share the message that was part of this grant the video below was produced to help viewers comprehend how important soil biology is to the pasture soil.  

https://youtu.be/QDmLPtpTFUs

 

Milestone #7 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

250 will work in groups to collect data points for the Pasture Compaction Ration. A total of 400 points will be collected from each pasture walk resulting in 4 Pasture Compaction Ratios per pasture walk.

Proposed number of farmer beneficiaries who will participate:
250
Proposed Completion Date:
October 31, 2020
Status:
In Progress
Accomplishments:

In 2020 due to the need to isolate only one of our Agricultural service providers and the PI had permission to visit farms to take compaction readings. In order to still collect enough data to study the use of the "Pasture Compaction Ratio" (PCR) the PI made up to eight visits to nine paddocks. Below (Milestone 8) are graph representations of the compaction readings in the pasture and under the fenceline and the resulting PCR which was arrived at by dividing the pasture reading by the fenceline reading.

 

 

Milestone #8 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

4 farms will be selected for in-depth study. 4 educators will take 10 compaction readings on one farm for ten months in year one and ten months in year two. This will result in 20 Pasture Compaction Ratios for 4 farms.

Proposed number of farmer beneficiaries who will participate:
4
Proposed number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who will participate:
4
Actual number of farmer beneficiaries who participated:
6
Actual number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who participated:
2
Proposed Completion Date:
December 31, 2020
Status:
In Progress
Accomplishments:

Due to the interruption caused by the Covid-19 pandemic the PI requested a change to the focus for the milestones for 2020. The request was to reduce the number of On-farm education events from fifteen to one event, and increase the research component from in-depth compaction readings from four paddocks to nine paddocks.

 

Additional Testing: Two soil samples from Adams and Carey paddocks were submitted for the Cornell Soil Health Assessment. below are the key potions of those reports. The Cornell Soil Health Lab has agreed to cooperate again with samples for next year's data collection. The project would like to see what soil composition (proportion of sand, silt, and clay), Organic Matter, and other soil health measurables have if any on the PCR data.

3pg SH Assessment Adams

3pgSH Assessment Carey

Milestone #9 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

At conclusion of data collection for the Pasture Compaction Ratio in December of 2020, the project team will evaluate the data to determine the Standard Deviation of the readings and comparison of the plant species reports. The team will attend three conferences attended by 200 people and write one article about the findings of the project.

Proposed number of farmer beneficiaries who will participate:
200
Proposed Completion Date:
May 31, 2021
Status:
In Progress
Accomplishments:

Initial review of data collected and standard deviation has begun. Will continue to work with advisory team to complete. We will be asking for an 8 month no-cost extension in order to collect more data on paddocks and to prepare data for outreach.

Milestone #10 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

15 grazing educators plan at least one pasture walk each. The pasture walks will take place in New York, Pennsylvania, Vermont and Maine. The Soil Health Trailer will attend each event for a demonstration to reach a total of 300 farmers. Demonstrations include with the New York Soil Health Trailer, including the slake test, percolation test, active carbon test, rainfall simulator and compaction test.

Proposed number of farmer beneficiaries who will participate:
300
Proposed number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who will participate:
15
Proposed Completion Date:
July 31, 2021
Status:
In Progress
Accomplishments:

We are hopeful that some type of on farm events will be possible in the summer of 2021. This will enable the project to achieve deliverables of on farm events. Towards this plan the project will continue to make videos of soil health talks that can be used at stations of an on farm event. By breaking up the presentations into stations, will allow farmers to be broken into smaller groups which allow social distancing. The first video can be seen at: https://youtu.be/QDmLPtpTFUs 

Milestone #11 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

300 will work in groups to collect data points for the Pasture Compaction Ration. A total of 400 points will be collected from each pasture walk resulting in 4 Pasture Compaction Ratios per pasture walk.

Proposed number of farmer beneficiaries who will participate:
300
Proposed Completion Date:
July 31, 2021
Status:
In Progress
Accomplishments:

If on-farm events are allowed we will work towards this goal. If we are prevented from on-farm events we will continue to collect the PCR data on the same paddocks used in 2020. For research purposes collecting another year of data from the same paddock will provide more reliable information.

Milestone #12 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

15 grazing educators will return to the pasture walk location monthly to collect follow up compaction numbers. They will take an additional 10 points per farm per trip for two return months. This will result in 6 Pasture Compaction Ratios per farm.

Proposed number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who will participate:
15
Proposed Completion Date:
July 31, 2021
Status:
In Progress
Milestone #13 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

The increased data collection on nine paddocks will be expanded on to include more Cornell Soil Health Tests, in particular we will collect "Soil Respiration" rates of the nine paddocks. This information will help farmers understand that compaction reduces the size of pores in the soil and whether this reduction negatively affects the soil's ability to recycle nutrients in the soil.

Proposed number of farmer beneficiaries who will participate:
500
Proposed number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who will participate:
50
Proposed Completion Date:
October 29, 2021
Status:
In Progress

Milestone Activities and Participation Summary

Educational activities:

75 Consultations
3 Curricula, factsheets or educational tools
12 On-farm demonstrations
4 Published press articles, newsletters

Participation Summary:

436 Farmers
20 Number of agricultural educator or service providers reached through education and outreach activities

Information Products

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.