What you need to know about soil compaction caused by your tractor tyres

The quality of the soil on your land is a key factor in producing more. It’s your most precious asset and it would be a shame if the repeated agricultural machinery and trailer traffic were to alter so decisive an element for your economic balance.
Did you know that excessive soil compaction could lead to a loss of yield of 20 to 50% in a few years?

This compaction impedes the regeneration of the soil and its biodiversity, encourages the formation of ruts, accentuates erosion and run-off. If you are concerned, don’t worry, we have made a list of soil compaction solutions which will allow you to improve your yield and your productivity. Follow the instructions….

 

1. What are the 5 main consequences of heavy machinery traffic on your land or overinflated tyres?

Between regular agricultural machinery inspections and general farm management issues, soil preservation is often neglected and pushed into the background. Yet among the problems most frequently encountered in the fields, certain deserve special attention, particularly soil compaction. Over time, this phenomenon will have a negative impact on your production and therefore on your revenues.

Although soil compaction is often linked to inflation pressure in agricultural tyres, other factors may also be taken into account, especially the load. This varies depending on the activity carried out, which may vary between:

  • “Light” work: during planting and soil preparation.
  • “Heavy” work: during harvesting, with harvesting machines and trailers accentuating the problem.
  • “Difficult” work: Ploughing and work that requires heavy mounted tooling (decompaction, ploughs, combination tools used during direct seeding).
In all cases, the consequences of soil compaction are a real issue that must not be neglected if you wish to preserve your yield.

1. Soil compaction blocks root development

The soil structure is crucial for the healthy growth of plants. It needs to be porous and aerated to allow the roots to develop easily. Unfortunately, this is not always the case, because agricultural machinery traffic leads to the compaction of your land.

Unless you take precautionary measures, such as adapting the pressure of your tractor tyres to the structure of the soil, loss of productivity due to compaction may represent between 20% and 50%, depending on the case.

Root development with soil compaction
  • On the left: right angled root stem which encountered a dense zone during its development
  • On the right: root with uniform development


If the crops are tubers such as beet or carrot, the roots have trouble developing resulting in irregular or deformed products. This obviously has consequences on your revenues, because it will be harder to obtain a good price on the market.

Soil compaction blocks root development
Rooting disparity and difference in plant maturity
(on the right blossom, in the centre no blossom).

2. Excessive compaction impedes soil regeneration

In mild climates, and in France in particular, soils are more sensitive to compaction. Above and beyond ill-adapted agricultural tyre pressure, this phenomenon is closely linked to the weight of your machinery which has a negative effect on the structure of your soil and its biodiversity.

There are two types of compaction:

  • Surface compaction: this is linked to tractor tyres and only concerns the surface of the soil. Simple decompaction is sufficient to correct this problem.
  • Deep soil compaction: this is often due to an excessive load carried by agricultural machinery. In this case, the biodiversity is threatened, because soil regeneration depends on this biodiversity and in particular on the action of the earthworm.

It is therefore necessary to know the type of soil and soil structure on your land in order to avoid compaction and work in the best possible conditions.

3. The formation of ruts

This is a problem that arises frequently with certain types of crop where there is repeated agricultural machinery traffic at the same place during the harvesting season and during crop treatments, sometimes in wet conditions.

Rut in wet earthThe formation of ruts may occur in large crop farms and tends to lead to water being stocked on the surface. This is often associated with soil compaction although they are two quite different phenomena.

A rut usually forms when the pressure exerted on the soil by agricultural machinery or a tractor is greater than the soil’s load bearing capacity. The wheels sink in until the pressure exerted by the tyres and the soil’s bearing strength balance out.

A rut usually forms when the pressure exerted on the soil by agricultural machinery or a tractor is greater than the soil’s load bearing capacity. The wheels sink in until the pressure exerted by the tyres and the soil’s bearing strength balance out.

4. Soil compaction encourages erosion and run-off

The consequences of soil compaction do not only concern the development of plants; erosion is also accentuated by canalising the stagnant surface water, which limits the storage of water deep down and prevents the uniform irrigation of the plot.

soil conditions stagnant water

5. Excessively compact soil impedes crop development

Excessive soil compaction leads to a loss of efficiency of farm inputs. As the water can no longer circulate properly in the soil, this leads to considerable leaching of phytosanitary treatments or farm inputs.

In simple terms, soil that is too compact due to compaction by agricultural tyres will block crop development as well as water storage although this is crucial for crops during dry seasons.

 

2. To reduce compaction: respect the condition of the soil linked to the weather conditions

Before beginning work, it is preferable to ensure that the soil is sufficiently dry. This verification will enable you to avoid compaction or smoothing over, and thus reduce the degradation of the soil structure and soil life. To preserve your soil and work in better conditions, don’t hesitate to check the state of your land manually before starting any work there.

Hard compact earth

If the climate is too dry, your soil is as hard as stone and you have trouble separating clods of earth, in-depth decompaction is necessary before starting any work.

This will enable you to preserve your tools and make fuel savings, because soil that is too hard requires more tractive force.

If you have hard, compact earth, you can drive any sort of agricultural machinery without risk of compaction because the land is already very hard.

hard and compact soil

Deep compaction beneath the topsoil

Light and crumbly earth

When the earth is light and supple and you can squeeze the clots easily between your fingers, your soil is ideal to work with.

Crumbly structured soil

Crumbly structured soil


Nonetheless, tyre pressure should be checked to avoid excessive soil compaction and preferably use of VF tyres (ideal pressure 0.8 bar). Thanks to these low-pressure tyres, the risk of compaction is much lower, because the load is spread over a larger surface on the ground.

Sticky, humid earth

When the earth is extremely soft and sticky, it is necessary to wait till it dries out sufficiently in order to avoid the risk of compaction with the slightest tyre pressure on the ground.

Whatever the type of tyre used, soil that is too wet leads to wheel slippage, which considerably increases the deterioration of the soil and the consumption of fuel. It’s better to wait until the land is fit to work on.

 

3. Using new technologies to limit soil compaction

New technologies which recommend less tilling to preserve the soil mean that the soil structure regenerates more slowly. It is therefore vital with this type of farming system to be very attentive to the risk of compaction, which will have an even greater impact.

In additional to occasional decompaction, you can turn to new technologies such as:

  • Controlled Traffic Farming: the technique consists in reducing machinery traffic by carrying out several operations per passage, with the aim of reducing soil compaction linked to the repeated passes on the land or the use of increasingly heavy agricultural machinery.
  • Strip-till: destined essentially for crops with a wide space between rows (beetroot, rape, sunflower, corn...) this process aims to prepare the fields by disturbing only the portion of the field that is to contain the seed row for soil preservation purposes. This technique is part of the minimum tillage systems and may be associated with an RTK guidance system, which allows a very precise control of vehicle traffic.

 

4. Use low pressure IF/VF tyres to preserve the soil

Low pressure tyre = reduction in compaction

WIDE FOOTPRINT =
soil protection, less compaction and better yield!

 

Among the different solutions which help reduce soil compaction, the use of adapted tyres is highly recommended. For this, you should determine the state of your soil structure.
There are two possibilities:

  • Surface compaction: this is essentially due to incorrect tyre pressure. You can limit soil compaction further by using low pressure VF tyres, ideally inflated to 0.8 bar.
  • Deep compaction: this is principally due to excessive load to the axle. In this case, it is better to opt for the widest possible VF tyres with sufficient surface area to spread the pressure and reduce compaction.
The use of adapted tyres contributes towards optimising your productivity, which will easily make up for the acquisition of new tyres.

 

5. Avoid soil compaction by using dual agricultural tyres

Although there are several solutions and technologies that will allow you to limit your soil compaction (see above) they are not necessarily adapted to every situation.

This is the case notably when you want to work with a very powerful tractor with very wide tools, i.e. very heavy equipment. In this case, the best solution is to reduce the load to the ground by spreading the weight over dual tyres.

dual tractor tyresThere are two major benefits to dual tyres:

  • A better distribution of load to the ground with less pressure.
  • Greater tractive force with a reduced slip ratio.
If you have large surface areas, thanks to this technique you will save a great deal of time and improve efficiency, and as such productivity, without compacting the soil.

 


The bridgestone-agriculture.eu blog is written by agricultural tyre experts who are available to provide you with the advice you need to maximise your productivity (How to ballast your tractor tyres - Technical data for agricultural tyres - Agricultural tyre performance - Pressure advice for agricultural tyres - Soil compaction solutions - Sprayer tyre pressure, etc.)

To take it a step further and increase the profitability of your farm, the agricultural tyre experts provides a free, highly detailed eBook which explains the essential role of the agricultural tyre in your productivity.

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The information contained in this publication is for guidance purpose only. Whilst every effort has been taken in its production, no responsibility can be accepted for any loss or damage arising from any kind of undetected technical or commercial error contained in this content. Any data supplied in this publication is subject to possible revision following the date of publication. Due to the constant advance of tyre technology, the contents of this publication are subject to change without notice.


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