As is common in Pennsylvania, again last fall we were faced with a challenging proposition to harvest corn and soybeans without rutting up the fields.

Now that the winter temperatures are warm it has also been hard to get into the field to spread manure without causing soil compaction.

The basics of soil compaction management are in order of importance: 1) help your soil resist and bounce back from compaction; 2) avoid causing compaction; 3) remediate compaction only if needed.

You can make soil resist compaction by practicing no-tillage for the long haul. No-till soil has a unique architecture with firm aggregates interspersed with macropores.

The firm aggregates help support weight from agricultural machinery or animal hoofs, resulting in significant reduction in likelihood to create ruts in the field.

No-tillage also stimulates organic matter accumulation at the soil surface which helps reduce the effects of surface compaction because soil with high organic matter content is ‘spongy’ and less compactable.

The permanent burrows of old root channels and prolific activity of earthworms and fungi in permanent no-till soil also helps make the soil resist compaction, while the biological organisms also help alleviate compaction after it has been caused.

Living root systems are probably the best protection against compaction. Just choose where you'd like to walk on a soggy day; on grass sod or bare soil?

Therefore, it is recommended to plant cover crops right after harvest of annual crops to keep living roots in the soil year-round. The living roots also help soil bounce back from compaction.

The living roots produce exudates and are often ‘infected’ by mycorrhizae that have fine fungal hairs and produce their own exudates that stimulate aggregation in the soil.