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Soil compaction causes and consequences:

Soil compaction can be associated with a majority of field operations that are often performed
when soils are wet and more susceptible to compaction. Heavy equipment and tillage
implements can cause damage to the soil structure. Soil structure is important because it
determines the ability of a soil to hold and conduct water, nutrients, and air necessary for plant
root activity. Soil compaction occurs when soil particles are pressed together, reducing pore
space between them. Heavily compacted soils contain few large pores and have a reduced rate
of both water infiltration and drainage from the compacted layer. This occurs because large
pores are the most effective in moving water through the soil when it is saturated. In addition,
the exchange of gases slows down in compacted soils, causing an increase in the likelihood of
aeration-related problems. Crop roots must exert greater force to penetrate the compacted
layer. Soil compaction changes pore space size, distribution, and soil strength. One way to
quantify the change is by measuring the bulk density. As the pore space is decreased within a
soil, the bulk density is increased. Soils with a higher percentage of clay and silt, which naturally
have more pore space, have a lower bulk density than sandier soils.
Merits and De-Merits of Soil Compaction for Plants Growth:
Slightly compaction Speed up seed germination due to better contact with soil.
Moderate compaction reduce moisture loss preventing drying out soil around the growing seed.
Corn planters are specifically designed to provide moderate compaction through packer wheels.

Medium textured soil having bulk density of 1.2 g/ cm

is generally favorable for root growth.

Although they will not develop root branching or secondary root formation. Under such condition
a moderate amount of compaction can increase root branching and secondary root formation. This
is important for exploration of non-mobile nutrient phosphorus.
Excessive soil compaction reduce root growth which decreases soil exploration capacity of roots.
Crop production is affected also by changes in water storage capacity of soil with less draining
Dry seasoning may produce the drought conditions due to decreased root growth.
Soil compaction in wet years decreases soil aeration, which increase soil denitrification (loss of
nitrate-nitrogen to atmosphere).
Reduced soil aeration affects root metabolism, because plants spend energy to take potassium.
In dry season, yields are increased with soil compaction at very low bulk densities.
Yield reach at maximum for optimum soil compaction beyond which yield is reduced.
In wet season, yields are reduced with increase in soil compaction.

Fig: Effects of weather on crop yield response to compaction level (Soane et al., 1994)
Causes of soil compaction:
Several forces may cause in soil compaction, but following are important.
1. Raindrop impact: It is a natural cause which produces soil crust (1/2 inch thick at soil surface).
Soil crust prevents seedling emergence.
2. Tillage Operations: Continues mold board plowing or disking at same depth will produce
serious tillage pans. This tillage pan is 1-2 inch thick which may not have a significant effect on
crop production.
3. Wheel Traffic: Wheels of farm tractors also cause soil compaction.
4. Minimal crop rotation: The trend towards a limited crop rotation has had two effects:
1.) Limiting different rooting systems and their beneficial effects on breaking subsoil compaction,
2.) Increased potential for compaction early in the cropping season, due to more tillage activity
and field traffic


Surface layer soil compaction increases runoff and promotes soil and water losses.
Compacted layer tilled with Moldboard plow or chisel plow will become rough having cloddy
surface which decreases soil erosion with reduced runoff.
Greater roughness increases infiltration rates.

Subsoil Compaction:

Sub soil compaction causes serious soil conservation issues and imposes long term threats to soil
Wet soil and equipment weights when exceeds10 tones per axle causes sub soil compactions.
Plowing also produces sub soil compactions.


Plants response to sub soil compaction largely depends upon crop type, soil conditions and the
climatic conditions.
Water stressed plants are further stressed when subsoil is compacted by limiting root growth.