[NAFEX] FW: Measuring Soil Compaction

Lon J. Rombough lonrom at hevanet.com
Mon Mar 3 10:18:10 EST 2003

From: ARS News Service <NewsService at ars.usda.gov>
Reply-To: ARS News Service <NewsService at ars.usda.gov>
Date: Mon, 03 Mar 2003 06:10:58 -0500
To: ARS News subscriber <lonrom at hevanet.com>
Subject: Measuring Soil Compaction

An Easier Way to Measure Soil Compaction?


ARS News Service
Agricultural Research Service, USDA
David Elstein, (301) 504-1654, delstein at ars.usda.gov
March 3, 2003

Measuring soil compaction may soon be easier for farmers, according to
Agricultural Research Service scientists who are evaluating a new sensor
that attaches to a tractor and measures compaction at six different depths
as it moves across a field.

Researchers at the ARS Cropping Systems and Water Quality Research Unit in
Columbia, Mo., led by agricultural engineer Kenneth A. Sudduth, have
designed and are evaluating the sensor.

Compaction is a key factor in soil productivity. Soil has many properties
that determine its value for crop production. For roots to thrive, the soil
must provide the right amount of water, as well as have good texture and the
correct amount of nutrients. The level of soil compaction is equally
important. If the soil is too compacted, there will not be enough pores to
allow the roots to respire properly. If the soil is too loose, nutrients
will leach through the root zone too rapidly and will not be useful to the

Soil compaction is primarily caused by farm equipment traffic. It can vary
widely over fields and thus can contribute to different yields in different

Researchers and consultants have traditionally used a cone penetrometer to
measure compaction in the field. The instrument is pushed into the ground to
measure compaction at a single location. Using a penetrometer to map
compaction variations within a field requires a lot of effort. To get an
accurate map, the penetrometer data must be collected at many locations.
Scientists and farmers would benefit from the new instrument, which is
easier to use and gets better results.

Maps of compaction measurements will show the farmer where compaction may be
a problem within a field. This new information should also help to interpret
the yield maps that many farmers already use. Understanding yield variations
and the causes for them is an important step toward making better use of
precision agriculture.

ARS is the U.S. Department of Agriculture's chief scientific research

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