There are all kinds of tools to consider when doing homework to determine which fields are candidates (for deep ripping) and which aren’t,” said Elston Solberg, director of agronomics at Agri-Trend. He was talking about soil compaction at a field day event sponsored by Tri Star Farm Services of Emerald Park, Saskatchewan, in October.
Standing in that field near Liberty, Saskatchewan, Solberg described the process producers need to consider before going ahead and deep ripping. De-compacting fields should be just one part of an overall strategy of fertility and soil improvement, he explained.
“The first thing a farmer needs to do if he’s thinking about this is get soil surveys for his farm area,” he added. “That will help him identify if this is feasible.” Those soil surveys can be downloaded online for free. (Google CANSIS to find them).
“You’re going to find in those reports some fields are just too rocky (for deep ripping),” he explained. “The other tool we have in our arsenal is what we call Power Zone, which has to do with identifying which fields will respond most rapidly to whatever needs to be dealt with. And in many fields one of the main issues can often be compaction.”
Finding exactly where compaction layers are is the next step. Using a penetrometer is an easy way to find them, and it’s a relatively inexpensive tool to buy. They typically cost somewhere around $200. Digging a small pit down a couple of feet and running a jackknife through the exposed soil profile will also make it clear where compaction layers are, although that involves a little time and elbow grease.
“This (deep ripping) isn’t cheap to do,” said Solberg. “The biggest bang for the buck involves doing your homework, finding out where the compaction layers are. Target the fields that need it. Target where the opener goes by finding the compaction layer that’s causing the most grief. And while you’re at it, look at adding nutrients or additives that will allow that fracture zone to stay open for as long as possible.”
Determining what those additives should be requires getting a soil test, first. “For this field, calcium is what’s required, but not lime,” he said. “Elemental sulfur will also add some benefits.” Some other nutrients could also be deep banded during the pass, which could help future crops develop deeper root systems.
“If you put the opener in the right spot, get a good fracturing in a dry fall and you get the right nutrients in the fracture zone, you’ll get some root systems growing into that fracture zone next year. With a big crop, that zone could stay open for years and years and years,” he said.
Tillage at the correct depth is key to success. The shanks of a deep ripper should only be put down as deep as is necessary to remove the compaction layer. Just because an implement can go down as far as 20 inches or so, doesn’t mean it should be used that way all the time — or ever. After finding the layers you want to remove, the shank depth should be set no more than an inch or two below it. Going too deep could cause more problems than it solves, and it wastes fuel by increasing the draft load put on the tractor, which will already be significant.
More from the Grainews website: What to look for in a deep ripper
Deep ripping is best done in the fall, but should only be tried when conditions are right. That means the soil must be relatively dry. If the field is wet, the shank will create a smear layer and not effectively deal with the problem.
“If it’s wet in the fall when you did it and you don’t put nutrients down there to keep it open, it (the compaction zone) could weld back together within a year or two,” said Solberg.
“The people that have success with these machines (deep rippers) first try it on a couple of fields,” he continued. “They see something is happening and they try it on a few more. Before they know it, they’re ripping their fields a second and third time. And they’re doing it at different depths for different purposes, because virtually every field in Western Canada has two man-made compaction layers.
Scott Garvey is machinery editor for Grainews. Contact him at [email protected]