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Soil compaction

By David G. Hallauer
Meadowlark District Extension Agent, crops and soils/horticulture

While it's relatively easy to see problems caused by above ground problems (disease, insect, weather) factors affecting growth below ground are much more difficult. What we can't see can't hurt us, right?

Well, that's not always exactly so. Soil compaction, while resulting from our work above ground, can have a huge impact on the root growth below and, in some cases, drastically affects crop performance. Almost every year, we are challenged with moisture at a time when we are traveling across crop fields and, in some cases, compaction has resulted. If you know that to be the case on your farm, spring is a great time to assess that level of compaction as soils are moist and good measurements can be obtained.

Confirming soil compaction doesn't have to be difficult. It's as simple as getting the shovel or soil probe from behind the cab of the pickup. Use the shovel to look for surface crusting or soil structure that looks like a stack of dinner plates (platy). Then, use the probe to push through the soil. Do so slowly and try to feel for layers of increased resistance. You'll often find this as you push through it into less resistant soil. If you want to go a step further, consider use of a cone pentrometer to take readings. A pentrometer is supposed to mimic the penetration power of roots. Just be sure you're willing to put the time in to learning how to properly use it before basing much on the numbers you generate.

Of course, the best cure for compaction is avoidance of working/driving on soils that are too wet. An understanding of the compaction you are creating, however, can also help you eliminate field passes, tillage operations, or damage by planting equipment to the soil structure. It's the first step to keeping what we cannot see from being a problem.

Pine wilt removal deadline--April 1

Whenever trees had to be removed because of a pine wilt infestation, May 1 used to be the magic date by which they should be cut down and burned. That date has been moved to April 1 to better stay ahead of movements by the pine sawyer that transfers the disease causing nematode.

Removed trees and the stumps from which they came need to be chipped, burned, or buried to aid in slowing the disease. And while many of the state's Christmas tree growers have been removing pine trees to slow the disease's spread, it simply isn't a high priority for homeowners. It should be, however. In many cases, the rapid spread of pine wilt has reduced previously healthy and useful pine windbreaks to dried up and dying trees in less than a year.

KSU Entomologist Dr. Bob Bauernfiend indicates that at least 90 percent of the disease's victims in the Midwest have been mature Scots pines. And while it does hit other pines (though rarely white pines), it tends to be worst on Scots pines.

Pine Wilt doesn't have to be the death knell for your pine windbreak. Just make sure trees are completely removed by April 1 to slow and, hopefully, stop the spread of this serious pine disease.

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