Avoiding Sidewall Compaction

With all of the rain we have had this Spring, the urge to get into the fields and plant corn is growing more and more with each passing day. This is something that we see quite often in the Delta and is all too familiar. It is times like this that we need to remember some little things that can have a huge impact on harvested yields. One of the many yield robbing and possibly most overlooked things that stands out in my mind during this time of the year is side wall compaction in the seed furrow.

Sidewall compaction occurs when planting into soils that are too wet and the seed furrow openers smear the soil on the sidewall of the furrow. This is very easy to recognize in the field once you know what to look for. If you dig down to the seed just after it has been planted, you will see what I always call a glazed or smeared effect on the soil in the seed furrow sidewall. If the soil dries quickly, this glazed area will become a hard barrier that will limit root growth and make the roots grow downward and not outward ultimately causing severe nutrient deficiency and/or drought stress. Think of it as the roots trying to grow through a clay pot and becoming pot bound.

The problem is often compounded by high soil clay content, dry conditions following planting, too much down pressure on seed closers and the planter not leveled properly just to name a few. The bad news is that once compaction occurs there is no magic bullet to correct it, and the effects will likely be felt during the entire growing season. When I’m called out by growers to look at areas of a field that are showing nutrient or drought symptoms, soil compaction is one of the first of many things that I will be looking for. I have seen on several occasions, confirmed using NutriSolutions® tissue tests, that the plant’s nutrient deficiencies were caused by sidewall compaction alone. With all of the farm fields in the Delta that have been leveled and land formed, we can often see 3 to 4 different soil textures in the same field. It is for this reason that the heavier areas of the fields should be thoroughly evaluated and the risks of sidewall compaction known before planting.   

The best way to know that the soil in a particular area is ready to plant is to go out into the field, dig down to the depth that the seed will be placed and gather up enough soil between your fingers to form a ball. If the ball sticks together and does not crumble or crack apart, you are most likely just a little too early to plant. The soil condition can change quickly during the Spring so waiting an extra day or in some instances just a matter of hours could save you a lot of heartache during the growing season.  

With all of the things in farming that are uncontrollable, try to take time before planting this season and avoid some of the pitfalls that are in our control. This is just one of the few but important reasons to holdup and wait before planting just a little bit longer.  

May you have a very prosperous and bountiful 2018,

Benny Guerrero
GreenPoint AG Mer Rouge, LA