INKERMAN – Fifty years ago, farmers gathered in Inkerman and using eggshells as a measurement tool discussed the effects of soil compaction.

The event returned Thurs., Aug. 26 for the first time since 1969, albeit using much more modern measurement tools, in a landmark day for area farmers meant to inform, educate and demonstrate the potential solutions to reduce soil compaction and the benefits.

Hosted at the Sevita International research site on Guy Road, once owned by Bill Hardy, the event was the culmination of a massive group effort. The Dundas Soil and Crop Improvement Association (DSCIA) and Ontario Soil Compaction Team (OSCT) spearheaded the event, but countless contributions from the Dundas Federation of Agriculture (DFA), Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA), and the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA), as well as individual volunteers, made the event a unique and immersive experience.

The attendance reflected the effort put in by the organizers as hundreds of farmers from across Ontario attended the event.

South Dundas farmer and DFA member Warren Schneckenburger was one of the hosts that offered explanations of the compaction demonstration.

The large group was split into two for a 90-minute session, which included one group watching a live compaction demonstration and the other split into three sub-groups to study soil structure, types and remediation.

Anne Verhallen, Sebastian Belliard and Jim Warren, all OMAFRA soil and land specialists, provided an in-depth look at soil health and productivity by literally digging out large trenches and using them as open air classrooms.

Much of the talk centred around how cover crop roots work and what the benefits are, how to evaluate soil structure from different management systems and a look at the vulnerability of different soil types. The sessions offered open discussions and an exchange of ideas between researchers and farmers with unique land conditions and concerns.

The compaction demonstration doubled as a live research day and was explained by Ian McDonald, OMAFRA crop innovations specialist.

A long line of 47 different pieces of equipment, some with more than one configuration, rolled over the scales and showed those gathered the measurable data live on a big-screen.

McDonald admitted that the science wasn’t as definitive as you would want as there are still a few variables, but the comparables offer good insight into using the right equipment at the right time.

“We’re always trying to do comparisons. If you pick this type of technology, this is the situation you use it in,” he said. “You have to decide what the tractors applications are and match the rubber for those applications.”

To make sure every type of farm and scenario was accounted for, a wide variety of equipment was on hand, including harvesters, tractors, haying equipment, manure spreaders, sprayers and wagons. Some of the machinery provided surprising findings.

“Some of the haying equipment is actually the worst. We are doing double whammy damage because you are transferring that weight down not expecting to be doing what heavy equipment does, but then you’re also hurting the live crop. So a lot of the overwintering problems are because we stressed that live crop,” said McDonald.

Ian McDonald, OMAFRA crop innovations specialist, has collected thousands of data points on compaction in his work on sustainable agriculture practices.

A common misconception about compaction management is to spread the weight distribution out over a larger area so the direct pressure isn’t as intense. Though length is better than width in this situation.

“You’re compacting more with that wide footprint. If you’re going to compact here, then keep that compaction in that line. The way to lessen that is to lengthen that tire so you use air pressure to do that. The more rubber you have between the rim and the top of the tire, the more air you have there to play with,” said McDonald.

He went on to explain that although not having the proper tires or inflation can be detrimental to soil health and crop yields, it can also cause further problems.

“Nobody ever changes them and it’s a safety issue, it’s a tire failure issue, it’s a tire wear issue. It’s the efficiency of getting horsepower from the engine to the ground,” said McDonald.

The simple fact of the matter is that machinery today is much larger, carries more weight and as a result has more tires than ever before. Changing the PSI every trip for every individual tire is a tedious task to say the least.

Brian Vandenberg looked on as a sample of soil is examined for its structure.

“Nobody’s going to do that. So now we have these central inflation systems. It’s built into the system and you can lower the pressure in less than a minute from 40 psi to 10 psi,” said McDonald.

With more than 10,000 data points collected in the days leading up to the event alone, there will be no shortage of information to come out of this compaction day. For those in attendance it was a hallmark event and an example of sustainable and innovative agriculture practices offered through research that will be implemented by the farmer as he endeavours to meet the everchanging needs of society.

It truly was where the rubber hit the dirt.

A central inflation system installed on a large manure spreader can help the farmer lower the compaction on the fields as well as maintaining safe PSI for road travel.

The best kind of soil structure is often found in undisturbed fence-rows as seen here.

Sebastian Belliard (left) from OMAFRA explained how different management systems can change soil structure.

Schoch Photos