Using forage radish to combat compaction in hay and pasture land

Project Overview

Project Type: Farmer
Funds awarded in 2016: $10,671.00
Projected End Date: 02/28/2018
Grant Recipient: Apple Creek Farm, LLC
Region: Northeast
State: Maine
Project Leader:
Abby Sadauckas
Apple Creek Farm, LLC

Annual Reports


  • Agronomic: general hay and forage crops, grass (misc. perennial), hay
  • Animals: bovine, goats, sheep


  • Animal Production: pasture renovation, feed/forage
  • Crop Production: no-till
  • Production Systems: general crop production
  • Soil Management: soil analysis, soil quality/health
  • Sustainable Communities: sustainability measures

    Proposal summary:

    This project will evaluate the impact of applications of manure and forage radish on soil compaction in an established hay field and pasture. Compaction is a common challenge facing farmers in the Northeast, but issues of timing, equipment and taking land out of production make it a challenge to solve. Deep tillage which has been shown to combat hardpan needs to be done when fields are dry. However, this timing also coincides with making hay on most farms, when equipment and time are in short supply. Use of deep tillage can create more work for farmers and necessitate rock removal, discing or other field preparations.  This may lead to having a field out of production for second crop hay or grazing rotations which in turn reduces the farm’s productivity and increases costs.This project will use readily available equipment and integration of forage radish species to increase organic matter, break up hardpan and aggregate soil nutrients without taking fields out of production.  This will provide the benefits of subsoiling with additional benefits of radish, specifically nutrient capture and retention.  Outreach will be through a project report, field day and a grower conference.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    Proposed Solution
    This project seeks to understand whether using forage radish to break up hardpan,“mop up” excess nutrients low in the soil profile and increase organic matter can improve the productivity of the farm by reducing costs for mechanical tillage and increase the farm’s net income through improved forage production. It is well documented that forage radish can biodrill deeply in the soil profile.  Breaking up hardpan with this action the radish is able to pull upward nutrients that are being held lower in the soil profile.  An additional benefit is that this soil improvement could be achieved with efficient use of time during a busy part of Maine’s growing season. This project could help many other farmers in the Northeast improve their pastures and hayfields in a cost effective manner.

    This project will evaluate the impact of applications of manure and forage radish on soil compaction in an established hay field and pasture. We will gather baseline data on each of the test sites that includes soil tests, depth and location of hardpan, % of organic matter, available nitrogen, water stable aggregates, cation exchange capacity and fertility needs. Data will be collected to establish impacts over the baseline data.

    Methods & Measurements
    In this project two subject fields, each with a control and test plot will be used to evaluate the impact of applications of manure and forage radish on soil compaction. Soil tests from control and tests plots in each will be taken and analyzed at the start of the grant. The soil tests will include pH; Lime Index; Available Nitrogen, Phosphorus, Potassium, Calcium, Magnesium, Sulfur, Boron, Copper, Iron, Manganese, Sodium, Zinc by modified Morgan method; Organic matter; Lead scan; Calculated Cation Exchange Capacity,  Texture, Aggregate Stability, Plant-available Water, Active Carbon/Microbial Biomass, Potential Nitrogen Supply, and an evaluation of Soil Compaction measurements.  

    Each year the farmers will collect and send in samples of manure collected from winter livestock housing that has been stacked and turned in preparation for field application. Results from these tests will ascertain the nutrients contained in order to analyze utility of application and source any additional amendments to meet fertility needs of the crop and ensure rapid radish establishment.   Ensuring the field is properly fertilized will be an essential tool in the success of radish seeding and this will be an important aspect of this project.  

    In each of the subject fields ring infiltrometer readings will be taken in 3-5 randomized locations for both the control and test plots.  A ring infiltrometer method will be used as opposed to a penetrometer because we feel the results provided by monitoring water infiltration rates will be more representative of the changes to the field as a whole.  Penetrometer readings in fields with recent tillage radish applications are open to bias depending on whether or not a radish hole is hit in the reading.  In both the test and control plots the ring infiltrometer will be driven in and tests conducted to measure baseline infiltration rates at the start of the project, in Spring of year 2 and a final test in the Spring of year 3. Both of the farmers and the technical advisor will participate in these tests to ensure accuracy in administration and data collection.

    In the hay field the farmers will aim to remove first crop by mid-July in order to allow enough time for manure application and seed drilling within 4 weeks given that ideal planting time in our climate for forage radish is the first week of August. Steps to complete this objective will include loading and hauling manure to the field, spreading manure and picking up the no-till drill from its storage site in Unity. In the permanent pasture test plot grazing will be conducted as part of an intensive rotational grazing system in order to achieve a stubble that will allow the emerging radish to compete with existing plants. The grazing rotation will be planned to coincide as much as possible with hay harvest to enable the use of the no-till drill in both the hayfield and pasture within a week or so. The farmers plan to clip the test pasture in order to be doubly sure that the tillage radish can be competitive with existing grass species. The aim of first year introduction of the tillage radish will be to plant at the optimal time, typically the first week in August, in order to allow for maximum growth. In the hay field the radish will be allowed to grow and the farmers will forego a second crop of hay. In the pasture the radish will be treated like forage and leaves will be grazed once they reach a height of 4-6”. Grazing will be short enough in duration that the radish will continue to grow well into the fall.  In this plot the farmers hope to use Graza radish seed, which is said to be better for grazing and to stand up a later into the season.  In the hayfields no specific variety is being sought, but seeds purchased will comply with the organic standards in order to maintain organic certification of these fields.
    The methods will be evaluated throughout the fall and spring, adjustments made and replicated a second year.  Replication will be in new areas of the fields or in the same areas depending on rate of success of the stand in year one.

    Project Timetable
    The project will be completed over two full growing seasons (2016 - 2018).  This timetable was established in order to collect baseline data in year one followed by two applications of manure and forage radish. This timeline will allow the farmers to collect two years of data to determine the impact of forage radish on compaction in both the subject fields and prepare a report which can be used to conduct outreach in the fall/ early winter of 2017.  Trialing this project over the course of two years will also enable us to evaluate and adjust seeding methods as necessary to achieve the desired stand of radish.  Achieving desired stand is believed to be one of the biggest barriers to project success, but we believe that the project design as well as two year timetable will enable us to overcome this potential barrier.  

    The project and related outcomes will be shared through a field day in year two, project report, and presentation at a grower conference.  Using social media and word of mouth the farmers will invite fellow farmers and service providers such as NRCS to participate in a field day. The project’s technical advisor will also promote the field day through her organization, The Maine Organic Farmer and Gardeners Association’s e-newsletter, online calendar and quarterly newspaper. The project report will form the basis of the farmers presentation that will share outcomes at a grower conference in the late fall/winter of 2018.

    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.