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Compaction - the Physical Side of Soil

I recently read a release from the USDA/ARS that warned of soil compaction problems that are being
caused by the use of heavier and heavier farm equipment. As with most articles concerning soil, it
completely ignored the important biological components that are involved with the topic.
In simple terms, soil that has good populations of microbial bio-life, especially AM fungi with their
sticky hyphae, is kept “fluffed up” and aerated. Clay platelets are separated, oxygen penetrates
easily down to root zones, and underground ecosystems remain healthy. Even when compacted
by equipment, such soil rebounds in a fairly short period of time, much like a damp sponge that is
squeezed and released.
In contrast, soils that have had their bio-life destroyed through decades of heavy tillage, poor crop
rotations, over-fertilization and chemical applications lack this ability to rebound. In those lifeless
soils, a heavy tractor will indeed exacerbate the ongoing compaction process, making a bad situation
even worse.
However, I’d suggest that placing blame on bigger tractors misses the essential point - it is lack of
biological activity that causes long-term soil compaction on croplands. A healthy soil could recover
from being compressed by equipment; dead soil cannot.
Sometimes, supposed causes-and-effects deserve a closer look - maybe a microscopic look instead
of just watching tractors roll back and forth on top of a field, eh?
I wonder where we’re going and why we’re in this handbasket?
Cheers, my friends,
Don Chapman
BioOrganics, Inc.
Nov., 2001

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