Identification and Remediation of Compaction on Northeast Pasture Soils

Project Overview

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

Information Products


  • Agronomic: grass (misc. perennial)


  • Animal Production: grazing management, pasture renovation
  • Education and Training: demonstration, on-farm/ranch research
  • Soil Management: soil quality/health

    Proposal abstract:

    Problem and Justification
    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. This project will focus on pasture compaction, the forerunner moving towards resilient and regenerative pasture management. We will provide tools for farmers to measure compaction in their pastures, and include farmers in collaborative research to develop a means to benchmark and measure their own compaction management. A challenge to farmer acceptance is that some traditional models of intensive grazing can lead to smaller macropores in soil aggregates due to the lack of lignin in litter residue. Smaller macropores are the beginning of declining soil physical health.

    Solution and Approach
    -The New York Soil Health Trailer will be used at on-farm events to demonstrate general soil health principals and provide specific pasture compaction demonstrations: Farmers method to determine compaction on their farms through use of push-in posts

    - Provide management techniques to reduce compaction: Woodchip heavy use areas; Rating soils affinity to compaction; Removing livestock from wet soils; Promoting high organic matter in soils

    -Northeast grazing educators will take part in professional development meetings and webinars on confronting current and future pasture compaction issues.

    -Collaborators will present at farmer conferences on the environmental and production challenges of pasture compaction and methods to avoid, measure, and track a farmer’s pasture compaction management.

    -Develop tool farmers can use to see the hoof impact at the current moisture level on their pasture soils.

    -Install “exclusion areas” in pasture to demonstrate the soils ability to “heal” from compaction.

    -Research the reliability of “Pasture Compaction Ratio” (PCR).

    Hypothesis: By taking penetrometer readings from under a fence line and then comparing to readings in the pasture the result will be a ratio of optimum compaction (fence line) and pasture compaction. If repeatable over different moisture levels the PCR will be a measurable way for farmers to track their compaction avoidance management.

    Performance targets from proposal:

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

    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.