Friday, May 1, 2009

Avoiding Sidewall Compacting During Late Corn Planting

Lloyd Murdock, Extension Soils Specialist
Plant and Soil Sciences, University of Kentucky

Sidewall compaction can result from planting a crop when the soil is a little too wet. This damaging effect can be even greater on soils with a relatively high clay content at the surface. It occurs when the double disc opener leaves the side wall of the planting furrow smooth and compacted (slick as opposed to shattered) as it pushes the soil aside. The trailing press wheel then increases the compaction with its downward force. If the soil stays very moist or wet, the roots may be able to penetrate the compacted mud at the sidewall and expand further into the soil. However, if the weather turns dry after planting, the sidewalls then harden, and roots are not able to push through since there are no pores or cracks. This causes the roots to grow within the planting furrow, along the direction of the row. Although plants may look normal at emergence, they will begin to show nutrient and drought stress after the corn is several inches high. This problem may be more common in no-tillage because no-tillage soils have better structure, and it is easier to traffic them in a wetter condition. The old adage of "waiting on no-till" is a good one. Sidewall compaction can also occur with conventional tillage. If you can mold the soil into a ball in your hand and the soil ball will not easily crumble apart, it is too wet to plant.

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