Minimizing Compaction of Vegetable Crops Tricky

January 4, 2005

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Controlling compaction in field crops is not easy, but minimizing compaction in vegetable crops is even trickier.

Randall Reeder, an Ohio State University agricultural engineer, said that because of regular crop rotation and lack of production flexibility, no one cure-all exists to keep compaction in check.

Reeder will offer tips to control compaction in truck crops (pumpkins, sweet corn, strawberries, for example) at the Ohio Fruit and Vegetable Growers Congress being held Jan. 19-21 at the Toledo Seagate Convention Centre and Radisson Hotel in Toledo, Ohio. The annual conference, which consists of general sessions, workshops, a trade show and other related events, is geared toward individuals and businesses interested in fruit and vegetable crop production and marketing.

"Nearly all vegetable growers recognize that they have compaction problems. Compaction can generally cause 5 to 10 percent yield losses, which can easily translate into a $50 to $100 loss per acre on a high value crop," said Reeder. "But because of various production issues, controlling compaction is not an easy task."

For field crops, such as corn and soybeans, most growers are able to solve compaction issues with controlled traffic, a production practice whereby all farm equipment is the same width and traffic is confined to specific paths year after year. But because of the rotation of high value crops that require various production needs, controlled traffic is practically impossible. Wider (lower pressure) tires are another option that seldom fits into a truck crop production plan.

Additionally, whereas corn, soybean and wheat growers can generally put off harvest if necessary, harvesting vegetable crops requires more urgency. And entering a field under unsuitable field conditions can lead to compaction problems.

"A grower has to get into the field when the crop is ready. Waiting until a wet field dries out is not an option," said Reeder. "There is a small window of opportunity when it comes to harvesting, or even spraying, vegetable crops."

But there are some steps growers can take that may help minimize compaction. Though not all recommendations will work for all crops in all fields, growers are urged to try different approaches to find a solution that works best for their situation.

• Minimize traffic lanes through the field during the growing season. Similar to controlled traffic, the practice requires establishing a permanent driving lane. Reeder stated that such a practice works well on pumpkins, for example, but not for mechanical sweet corn harvest.

• Subsoil in the fall any fields to be planted with truck crops. Deep tillage helps minimize compaction effects by eliminating the plow pan. Growers can use a shovel or soil probe to determine the depth of compaction, then subsoil about an inch below the compaction layer.

• Reduce pressure to the ground by switching to a larger tire diameter. Narrow rows in vegetable production limit the width of tires, and a smaller tire size tends to be higher in pressure.

For more information on the Ohio Fruit and Vegetable Growers Congress, log on to http://www.ohiofruit.org, http://www.ohiovegetables.org or call Susan Gaughan at (614) 246-8292, or e-mail growohio@ofbf.org.

The conference is sponsored by Ohio State University Extension, Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center, Ohio Vegetable and Potato Growers Association and the Ohio Fruit Growers Society, Ohio Direct Agricultural Marketing Association and the Ohio Christmas Tree Association.

Author(s): 
Candace Pollock
Source(s): 
Randall Reeder