To Carefully Manage Compacted And Rutted Fields 

On February 27, 2019

To Carefully Manage Compacted And Rutted Fields 

2018 was the wettest on record in much of Pennsylvania and field work around the rain was challenging all year. This resulted in some fields getting severely compacted or rutted up. Extension Soil Management Specialist Sjoerd Duiker offers these thoughts on our situation.

Most farmers in Pennsylvania are acutely aware of the negative effects of tillage on soil – such as increased potential for runoff and soil erosion, increased water evaporation, increased decomposition of soil organic matter, destruction of soil structure, destruction of continuous macro-pores, reduction of earthworm populations and decreasing microbial biomass. No-till adoption is now 65% of planted acres in Pennsylvania. Much of this is continuous no-till and farmers are fearing they will lose the benefits they have built up over the years if they do tillage. 

Nonetheless, if the field is severely compacted, it may be necessary to take action. If you use a drill to plant crops such as forages, small grains, or cover crops the soil surface needs to be level or you will get irregular establishment of the crop. If you plant corn or soybeans with a planter a level field is less essential, but then you may be confronted with the unevenness in the fall when you want to harvest beans or plant cover crops. 

If ruts have been created the structure in the bottom of the ruts may be destroyed resulting in standing water in the bottom of the ruts. If this is the case it may be beneficial to create fissures across the ruts so that water can percolate into the subsoil. Keep in mind that tillage of long-term no-till soil or sod, leads to risks of clod problems, loss of soil support (trafficability), increased risk of pugging (by livestock), increased risk of re-compaction, damage to natural root and earthworm channels and kill of living cover crops or sod if present in the field. Therefore, you want to limit the intensity of tillage to the bare minimum to restore the soil to productivity. 

Diagnosis is required to determine if tillage is needed, what kind, and how deep. You can use a penetrometer, but a shovel and a keen observing eye is probably more useful. Here are some suggestions: 1) if rutting is limited to less than 10-20% of the field, localized remediation is enough and the entire field does not need to be leveled; 2) if ruts are only 1” deep or less, no remediation may be needed; 3) if soil is severely compacted in the bottom of ruts, leading to standing water, you may run a tillage tool with rigid shanks such as a heavy-duty chisel plow or straight-shank subsoiler across the ruts just below the depth of the ruts so that fissures are created for water infiltration (this should be done when the ruts have dried out somewhat); 4) level the surface soil with a tool that leaves most residue at the soil surface – an example is a field cultivator or, if you don’t have access to it, a disk harrow. It is important to follow this with practices that build soil structure and favor biological activity, such as cover crops, deep rooted crops, and additions of organic matter (such as dairy or packed manure). 

The wonderful thing is that soil is a living entity with the ability to heal itself. Clay particles contribute to increases in small pores through their shrink/swell capacity, earthworms (depending on the species) will burrow through the soil and create open pores as well as pores filled with casts, fungi will grow hyphae that restore structural stability, and living roots will grow and revitalize porosity also.

To Learn About Forage Production

The 2019 Pennsylvania Forage Conference will be held on Thursday, February 21, 2019 at the Grantville Holiday Inn.  Registration will begin at 8:15 am with the program beginning at 9:00.  Visit with industry professionals and farmers and enjoy the day listening and learning about educational topics pertaining to forage production from industry leaders!  

This conference includes farmer speakers who have years of experience of making dry hay, haylage, and grazing. Enjoy the opportunity to network with producers and interact with exhibitors from both industry and government alike.  Participate in sessions geared to provide practical, useable information that can be taken home and put-to-use.

This year PFGC will have satellite locations for attendees and vendors.  The conference will be broadcasted from the main event held in Grantville, PA in real-time to satellite locations.  At these locations, attendees will have the opportunity to visit with local exhibitors during breaks and lunch.  

Satellite conference locations will be held at: Union County Extension Office, 343 Chestnut St. Ste 3 Mifflinburg, PA, Westmoreland County, 214 Greensburg Donohoe Station Road #E, Greensburg, PA, Bradford County Extension Office, 200 Main Street, Ste 3 Towanda, PA and the Mercer County Extension Office 463 North Perry Hwy, Mercer, PA 

Topics on the program for the 2019 Conference include a Weather Update – 2019 Growing Season Projection by Kyle Imhoff and Forage Diseases by Alyssa Collins, PhD, Penn State Extension. Charlie Brummer, PhD will address Forage from PA to CA: Many Systems, Common Goals.  George Lake, Thistle Creek Farms, Tyrone, PA will give an overview of his operation. Ecotypes and Endophytes: What’s New in Tall Fescue Varieties will be addressed by Charlie Brummer, PhD.

Pre-registration for the main location will be $45 and registration at the door of the main location in Grantville will be $60.  Satellite locations will be $20 early bird and $60 at the door.  Conference and registration information can be found at:

If you have questions regarding registration, commercial sponsorship, or exhibit space, please contact Terri Breon at: 814-355-2452 or  For additional information regarding the content of the program, please contact Jessica Williamson at: 814-865-9552 or

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