How to tell if you have a soil compaction issue

A Regina-based company uses a digital penetrometer to help growers identify areas in their fields where crop growth is limited by soil compaction.

Yevgen Mykhaylichenko of My Agro said the company’s soil compaction field readings can be used to create prescription maps that allow growers know both where and how deep compaction layers are.

“We make a shapefile of soil compaction maps and then transfer it into the tractor monitor and you can have a three-point hitch with the subsoilers and do the variable rate prescription for deep ripping. Because some spots you don’t need to work 60 centimeters, you may only need to go 20 centimeters,” Mykhaylichenko said.

Mykhaylichenko is from the Ukraine where he worked in precision farming, but he decided to leave the country with his wife to escape the military action with Russia in 2014.

Since moving to Canada and working within the agriculture industry here, he said he’s noticed Prairie farmers do not pay as much attention to soil compaction as farmers in the Ukraine and Europe.

“There are two compaction layers here in Saskatchewan. The first one starts at 15-20 centimeters. We call it the man-made hardpan or man-made compaction layer, because of just driving the big tractors and combines across the field where there is no traffic control,” Mykhaylichenko said.

The S600 provides a visual report and creates a data file from each soil stab. | My Agro photo

“The second layer we call it the natural soil compaction layer. It starts at 40 to 45 centimeters.”

He said canola and cereal roots go well below the natural compaction layer, which prevents crops from accessing nutrients and moisture below it.

Mykhaylichenko said he’s compared his soil compaction maps to growers’ yield maps and there is often a strong correlation between lower producing parts of the field and areas with compaction issues.

The service offered by My Agro costs .80 cents per acre to test soil with the digital penetrometer and to create field compaction maps. There is also a travel fee from Regina.

“Normally the average field grid is about 15 acres per probe,” Mykhaylichenko said.

If growers want a more accurate soil compaction field map then more probes can be taken.

The shapefiles are compatible with popular agronomic software such as Trimble and SMS, he said.

He said next year My Agro will begin to sell the digital penetrometer he uses, which is a S600 from Ukraine based SKOKAgro.

“It’s really easy to use. It has a GPS receiver and you have two ways of transferring the data from your penetrometer to your laptop. The first one is a USB cable, so once you finished measuring the probes from your farmland you can transfer the data into your laptop and you can do it offline. The second one is a SIM card through the mobile network,” Mykhaylichenko said.

An operator agreement needs to be established with a Canadian carrier before users can upload information directly from the device.

Mykhaylichenko said there is a significant potential for growers to increase yields by dealing with compaction layers in the Western Canada, and he is hoping to set up a study with Agriculture Canada that examines how yield is affected by deep ripping in compacted areas identified with a SKOKAgro digital penetrometer.

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