Expert view

Does technology have all the answers for soil compaction?

This morning, I found this nice picture in my email inbox. A photographer snapped a farmer in the north of the Netherlands, preparing a seed-bed for his potatoes.

However, it is not just the artistic quality of this photo that made me dwell upon it. It also illustrates the development of soil compaction – or actually, the prevention of it.

What we see is a Steyer tractor on tracks, instead of wheels, and a lightweight (only 3.5t) Zetor tractor with its six tyres spread over its entire width.

The photo the author is referring to. Photo credit: Koos van der Spek

 

Normally this Zetor tractor is deployed for making seed-beds for onions and beet. This spring, however, it is being used as an extra pre-cultivation on the plots with the heaviest marine clay, thereby reducing the risk of compaction.

Challenge: soil compaction

Soil compaction has become a major issue in crop farming in recent years. Not just here in the Netherlands, but also in key arable areas such as parts of Germany and France.

It is even an issue in Australia, where I know of an arable farmer on 11,000ha who has to use low-pressure tyres in combination with tramlines to prevent his equipment from sinking into the soil. In his case, not taking these measures would render these soils worthless for cropping.

The importance of soil management

Saving soils is a hot topic all over the world. The differences in yields, depending on good or bad soil management, can equate to 10-15%. However, the difference is invisible to the naked eye.

New tyre technology is helping and there are significant advances. But the effect of tyre development is not as great as you would expect. This is partly because of increasing machine size.

For example, including their payload, sugar beet harvesters can approach 60t in weight. This is a lot, on any type of soil, especially in moist conditions.

Watch the video: Tyre system cuts combine soil compaction by 10%

However, I think there is much more to come through more radical solutions. Imagine having swarms of smaller autonomous, relatively cheap product carriers replacing the large trailers, or even trucks.

Some people have started to think about such radical solutions and I believe it won’t take decades to arrive. Things are advancing extremely quickly.