Question: What advice do you have for farmers during harvest season in terms of limiting or avoiding compaction in fields?

Answer: The soil moisture profile is saturated across much of the state, similar to last fall. Doug Adams, a no-till and strip-till farmer from Humboldt County, encourages farmers to rethink their tillage practices.

“Last fall when we had wet conditions we noticed that we could combine in fields and not leave ruts like the farms that do tillage ahead of soybeans,” said Adams. “The soil structure helps support the load and reduces compaction since the soil acts more like a mattress and will spring back up after crossing it with a normal load.

“We load our semis in the field with a grain cart and most of the loads go out one driveway,” he added. “I do not till the area even where we fill the trucks and you cannot see any difference in the soybeans this year in terms of compaction. When I invite farmers to see my no-till and cover crop fields, I show them the area where I fill the trucks and they are impressed with the crops and can’t tell where we filled the trucks the previous fall.”

Roger Zylstra farms in Jasper County and said his soil had some room for water after being mostly dry in July and August. He no-tills on rotation ground and vertical-tills on continuous corn acres. He also says the best thing to support the load of machinery during harvest is to work on soil structure.  “It takes several years to make changes, but if we don’t get started, nothing will change,” he said about switching tillage systems.

“It’s been a challenging year and it looks like harvest will be challenging,” Zylstra added. “Something that helps when it’s saturated is to keep the traffic on the end of the field.”

Curt Mether has used a no-till system on his farms in Harrison and Monona Counties for more than 20 years. He says the effects of compaction, caused by being in fields with heavy equipment when soil conditions are less than ideal, can be long lasting. “An auger cart can weigh 40,000 to 60,000 pounds. That’s a lot of weight to haul across the field, especially if it’s a little wet,” he said.

Instead, he encourages farmers to think about emptying the combine before it’s full and unloading at the edge of the field. “These options might not work for everyone, but they may work for some,” he added.

Adams said he is also getting questions from farmers who have planted cover crops into soybeans. “People are concerned about the growth of the cover crop, and if it will effect harvest,” he said. “Typically, the cover crop is flimsy and green, which does not cut easily with the sickle on the bean head. A little bit may go in with the beans, but the dry bean stems just keeps it flowing through the combine. The green cover crop can also help keep the dust down when harvesting soybeans.”

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