With lack of moisture and relatively decent weather, now is a good time to evaluate soils for signs of compaction.
A practical way to accomplish this is using a spade, soil probe or tile probe. Use the spade to dig a small hole about a foot deep. Use a small knife to probe the sides of the hole to see if there are any compressed layers. Use a tape measure to determine at what depth the layers occur. Now dig a similar hole near a fence line or water way and do the same thing. Does this soil look different?
Once you determine the depth at which the soil compaction occurs, you can work on improvement. Compaction in the top three inches of soil is usually due to traffic. Running properly inflated tires, using floatation tires or more tires in general can help to decrease surface compaction. Also not traveling on wet soils helps too.
Sub-surface compaction is more difficult to deal with. Be sure not to confuse soil compaction with a change in soil texture.
Look to see if roots of plants are growing through that layer or if they grow at a 90-degree angle. If they can grow through it, it is not true compaction.
Deep tillage at one-inch below sub-surface compaction can help. Deep tillage is only beneficial if that compaction layer is root limiting so be sure to evaluate it closely. If the field is conventionally tilled, the benefit will only last a few years. If the field is no-tilled thereafter, the effect may last much longer due to the reduced traffic.
Jonie James is a McPherson County Extension Agent for agriculture.