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Harvesting beet in wet conditions

Managing soil recovery after the beet harvest

Authored by: Tractor tyre expert | 20 January 2023

The self-propelled machinery used for harvesting beet represents 40 to 80 tonnes bearing down on tyres that will criss-cross over your fields, closely followed by tractors with trailers, weighing around 35 tonnes when loaded. Bearing in mind that excess soil compaction can lead to a loss of yield of between 20 to 50% the following years, especially if the harvest takes place during the wet season between October and November, the impact is massive this should make us more aware that soil recovery action is necessary after a beetroot campaign.

In this article, we will guide you in choosing the best solution to help prevent further soil compaction and avoid having to envisage costly soil aeration operations.

Beetroot harvesting generally takes place in wet conditions, which makes the soil more sensitive to compaction. After the campaign, it is necessary to think about aerating the compacted soil to preserve future yields, especially if you are obliged to conduct the harvest during bad weather.

Beetroot harvesting in overly wet conditions
Beetroot harvesting in overly wet conditions

 

There are several solutions for decompacting soil, but the choice of technique to use depends on the impact that the tyres of your agricultural machinery have on the soil surface during the harvest. The soil decompacting action required will be different depending on whether you are faced with surface compaction or deep soil compaction.

 

1. Tillage can be a good solution for soil aeration in certain conditions

If the beetroot harvester was able to work on dry ground, in good weather conditions, there will be less deep soil compaction. It’s always better to harvest a week earlier when the weather is good than run the risk of harvesting a week later in the rain. The quality of your harvest will be better, with less damage to the roots and your soil will be preserved.

Beetroot harvesting with wide tyres to limit compaction
Beetroot harvesting with wide tyres to limit compaction

If the soil was dry during the harvest, tilling should suffice for surface soil preparation. Mechanical tillage of the arable layer makes it possible to loosen the soil or break up the compacted zones to improve aeration, draining and the root development of your next crops.  The objective is to turn over the arable layer of soil to redress the effects of compaction linked to the passage of the beetroot harvester.

On the other hand, if the aim of the tilling is to decompact, you must be careful not to reinforce the plough pan which forms beneath the plough always at the same depth. The plough pan, like compaction linked to the weight of the harvesting equipment, corresponds to deep soil compaction. To avoid this problem, make sure that you always modify the plough’s tilling depth each time you work.

Tilling should suffice for soil decompaction in dry conditions
Tilling should suffice for soil decompaction in dry conditions

 

2. When is deep soil aeration necessary?

If the harvester had to operate on wet ground at the end of October or mid-November, this is likely to result in deep soil compaction due to the soil’s low capacity to resist the weight of the repeated passage of the agricultural machinery over the same spot. The compacted layer is situated directly below the wheel and can go down as far as 60 cm deep or more, depending on your type of soil.

Complete soil destructuring resulting from harvesting on soggy ground
Complete soil destructuring resulting from harvesting on soggy ground

 

Working in wet conditions with a self-propelled beet harvester leads to compaction of the subsoil.  This is what causes the most damage, with a resulting loss of yield of up to 20% and even 50% in certain regions. This impact on your productivity will continue over ten years or so, unless you use a subsoiler or carry out deep aeration work. This operation makes it possible to break up the earth without turning it over to improve its structure. This tilling technique helps to decompact the earth at a depth of more than 50cm and is used essentially in the most compacted zones such as in the tracks made by the harvester or working areas around the silos.

The aim of this operation is to facilitate aeration and enable water to circulate freely in the soil. Before starting, ensure that your soil has dried out completely, with as low a moisture content as possible to ensure optimal efficiency.

 

3. Is natural decompaction a real possibility after beetroot harvesting?

Tilling, treatment of ruts, subsoiling or deep aeration are soil tilling techniques which require the use of high energy consuming mechanical tools, with a high cost linked to this type of operation.

To reduce operating costs and mitigate the effects of in-depth alteration of the soil, there are other techniques that can help with soil decompaction more naturally. But would this work for your farm?

 

Is stimulating soil life really effective after a beetroot harvest?

Water drainage is 10 times quicker when there is a large population of earthworms. The soil’s biological life is one of your best allies in crop farming. Worms play an important role in decompacting, making it possible to regenerate compacted soil, but the process is extremely long and requires around 24 months for natural regeneration.

Intercropping completes the work of the earthworms thanks to the penetration of the roots into the soil’s miniature pores, although rye, oat or alfalfa roots do not descend beyond the first 20 centimetres of the arable layer. 
These two solutions will not be sufficient to maintain soil fertility after a beetroot harvest.

Is stimulating soil life really effective after a beetroot harvest?

 

Frost/thaw cycles: a superficial treatment

Soil decompaction may also take place via “frost/thaw” cycles, but always within certain limits.  The expansion of the frozen water effectively causes fissuring in compacted zones, but only in the arable layer and this is more likely to occur after tilling. The “frost/thaw” cycle does not actually enable deep aeration and cannot mitigate for deep soil compaction following beetroot harvesting in wet conditions.

There is no miracle solution, because soil regeneration is a long process, so prevention is better than cure!

Frost/thaw cycles loosen the soil after tillingFrost/thaw cycles loosen the soil after tilling

 

4. How to look ahead and limit soil compaction?

To avoid major soil recovery work after beetroot harvesting, the necessary precautions should be taken beforehand and the right practices adopted to save time and make savings in the long run.

Do not drive over land that is too wet

You can preserve your soil by taking care not to drive over the land when it is waterlogged. 
Unless it rains for several weeks in a row, obliging you to work on soggy ground, avoid using heavy machinery when the soil is wet deep down.  The damage would be significant and lead to exorbitant soil recovery costs.

Do not drive over land that is too wet

Avoid overloading the trailers

You can preserve your soil by taking care not to drive over the land when it is waterlogged.

Unless it rains for several weeks in a row, obliging you to work on soggy ground, avoid using heavy machinery when the soil is wet deep down.  The damage would be significant and lead to exorbitant soil recovery costs.

Avoid overloading the trailers

Avoid additional weight if it is not absolutely necessary

A good load distribution on your agricultural tyres will provide optimal motricity, preserve your equipment and above all preserve your soil.

You will certainly need to add additional weight when carrying out heavy work which could lead to slip, especially with a 4 wheel-drive tractor with different wheel sizes. But make sure you remove the additional weight when the tractor is in transport mode or when it is just being used to pull multi-axle trailers.

 

Use low-pressure tyres on all your agricultural vehicles

Among the different solutions for reducing soil compaction, the use of large, low-pressure agricultural tyres is the most effective and the most reliable in the medium to long-term. These high-tech tyres help limit soil damage by spreading the weight of your agricultural vehicle over a longer, wider surface area.

For work in the fields and travel by road, Firestone has developed the Maxi Traction range of tyres. Thanks to its extremely robust casing and its reinforced structure, this tyre range has a very high load capacity and is highly resistant to wear. One of the main advantages of the Maxi Traction tyre is the extensive flexion capacity of the sidewalls, which makes it possible to work at a reduced pressure of 0.8 bar.

Extensive soil compaction around the silosExtensive soil compaction around the silos

The soil aeration work that you have to carry out after your beetroot harvesting campaign must be done with tyres used at low pressure, such as the Maxi Traction range, which will allow you not to compact your soil again during the decompacting operations. You could also consider using duals which offer better load distribution over a larger contact patch with the ground. Lastly, try reducing the number of passages over your land by combining work with a front implement and a rear implement at low speed.

 


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Topic: Soil compaction

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