I recently had the opportunity to attend Michelin’s international media event in Europe, which included a day of field demonstrations and tire tests.

While the company showcased some of it’s latest innovations, a fair amount of time was dedicated to discussing the consequences of compaction on long-term farm productivity.

One of the more engaging presentations was given by Peter Mills, a professor at Harper Adams University in England, who presented the first year data of an ongoing 10-year study on the effects of tillage practices, equipment traffic and tire pressure on yields. The goal of the research project is to develop an integrated farming system that makes the most efficient use of soil and water resources to maximize yield.

At the outset of the session, Mills noted that compaction costs farmers in the United Kingdom upwards of $1.8 billion dollars per year in productivity. That was a startling figure, which underlined the emphasis being given in the region to better soil management practices. Mills notes that farmers are forced to spend more time and fuel fixing compaction problems, which decreases overall productivity in the field.

“The expense is so high because compaction is extremely time-consuming to repair and approximately 90% of the energy that goes into cultivation, is actually spent repairing the damage we all did during the previous year,” Mills says.

Part of the study, which was conducted in the Czech Republic for winter wheat, also revealed that throughout the season, 86% of a field was driven on by a tractor tire at some point using deep-tillage practices, compared to 65% for shallow tillage, which includes strip-till.

While still a high percentage, Mills notes that farmers can minimize the damage done with tractor tires by reducing the pressure and increasing the footprint in the field. One of the comparisons done in the study was yield differential using standard ground pressure (22 psi) and low ground pressure (10 psi) in a shallow-tillage system.

The results, while only a one-year sample, revealed a 2.6% yield increase in field areas with the low-pressure tires. It will be interesting to see if these percentages change throughout the length of the study, which Mills hopes to expand to the United States and incorporate corn and soybean acres at some point.

Until then, Mills left myself and other attendees with some advice to pass along to farmers: Remember that fields are there to grow crops, and not for driving vehicles around.

How are you managing and minimizing compaction in your strip-till operation? Share your story with me at (262) 782-4480, ext. 441, or send me an e-mail at jzemlicka@lesspub.com