Treating Soil Compaction Using Woven Weed Fabric

Project Overview

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2007: $9,886.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2009
Region: Southern
State: Texas
Principal Investigator:


  • Vegetables: onions, peppers, tomatoes


  • Crop Production: organic fertilizers
  • Soil Management: organic matter, soil analysis, soil quality/health

    Proposal summary:

    The main problem on the farm appears to be soil compaction. The soil is approximately 98% sand and 2% organic matter. Heavy rainfall at times causes compaction of the soil and has proven to be a problem when attempting to grow crops under no-till or minimum till production techniques. Compaction has become even more of a problem since converting to a chemical-free growing. Each year the weed pressure was so great that to 14-17 year old youth, managing weeds by hand removal was an impossible task. I first attempted using 48" plastic mulches, however, between walking on the mulch and the high winds of West Texas, the mulch was usually torn, blown off the rows and became of no use in weed management. I then turned to a woven plastic weed guard that was available in twelve foot wide rolls. Three acres of the field were covered with the fabric as mulch. Although it was more expensive to purchase and labor intensive to cut holes for planting vegetables, the manufacturer stated that the life expectancy would be five to seven years. This year was the third year to grow vegetables using the woven fabric. I noted a change in plant growth and plant health and at first attributed this to the continued drought conditions. However, upon examining plants and root structure it appears that the soil compaction prevented good feeder and tap root growth. Okra, tomatoes, peppers, squash, cucumbers and watermelons all showed signs of plant stress, even after irrigation and foliar feeding. I believe that this is a result of soil compaction. It is my thinking that this will prohibit the sustainability of vegetable production on the farm. My proposed solution is to roll up the woven fabric at either the one year or two year crop rotation; add compost and other nutrients; chisel and rotary till the soil; and then roll the woven fabric back over the plot. I will also be using humic acid on the north half of each plot to determine if the increased microbe action might slow down soil compaction. My study will be conducted on nine adjoining plots that are twelve feet wide and 55-60 feet in length. Tomatoes, peppers and onions will be planted on these plots. All plants will be started in the greenhouse and then transplanted into the field. The existing plots 1, 2, and 3 will be left as is. (Woven plastic with surface drip irrigation). Humic acid will be sprayed on the north half of each plot to determine what effect, if any, that the increased microbe action will have on soil compaction. On plots 4, 5, and 6 (currently covered with woven fabric that has been in place for three years), I will roll back the fabric; apply compost to the three plots; apply humic acid to the north half of the plots; chisel and rotary till; then roll the fabric back over the plots; and install surface drip irrigation. Plots 7, 8 and 9 are not currently covered with woven fabric. I will apply compost to the three plots; humic acid to the north half of the plots; chisel and rotary till; install surface drip irrigation; and then leave the three plots uncovered during the trial. These three plots will be hand weeded during the trials. Approved chemical-free insecticides will be used for the control of insects on all plots. Soil compaction tests will be conducted at the beginning of the study, mid year (July), and at the end of harvest (October). I will also observe plant health, fruit quantity and quality during the growing and harvest seasons. After final harvest random plants will be pulled up to observe feeder and tap root growth and health. The study will also be repeated in year two. However, in year two I will not roll up the woven fabric and rotary till plots 5 and 6. These will be used to determine whether or not production will be sustainable if chiseling and tilling is performed every second year, or must be performed annually. A comparison of all data collected on these plots and plot 4 will be made looking for differences in plant health, fruit quantity and quality and root development. Plot 9 will not be cultivated for year two and will be a no-till plot. Humic acid will be applied to the north half. During year two compaction tests will be conducted at the beginning of the crop year, mid season and at the end of the season. During both years my study will be a part of the Texas A&M Extension High Plains Vegetable Field Day. Each year Dr. Russ Wallace invites a group of High Plains Vegetable Growers to several vegetable farms to observe different production and marketing strategies. We will be on that tour during both years of my study. The soil compaction study will be highlighted by explaining the procedures followed and outcomes as well as pending issues. With the assistance of Dr. Wallace I will write a report that will be handed out during the field day. Photographs will also be available. The report will be published on the Extension and South Plains Food Bank web sites. Using these and other resources I will be able to extend the results to all interested growers, extension specialists, county agents and interested researchers. I have measured off the nine plots where I will be growing tomatoes, peppers and onions. I will plant an equal number of each vegetable on each plot and insure that an equal number are planted where the humic acid has been applied and the untreated area. During the growing season one gallon of fish emulsion will be applied through the drip system monthly. Each week a foliar application of sea weed will be made on all plants. I will measure soil compaction prior to rotary tilling, at planting, at mid season and at the end of the growing season. Records of all observations will be made and data compared. The following questions will be answer during my study: 1. Does humic acid affect soil compaction where woven fabric is currently in place? 2. How does annual chiseling and rotary tilling affect soil compaction? 3. Is soil compaction greater or less under the fabric of plots 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 & 6 during years one and two. 4. How does humic acid affect compaction in areas cultivated and recovered with fabric? 5. What affect does cultivation and not covering have on compaction? 6. How does each process affect fruit quality and quantity? 7. What affect does no-till without fabric have on compaction, fruit quality and quantity? 8. Can I go two years without rolling up the fabric to chisel and rotary till without affecting sustainability? The study will be repeated in year two. All results pro and con will be recorded and reported so that others will not repeat procedures that take from sustainability of our agriculture practices and may take advantage of positive results.

    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.