You can lose significant yields to compaction, even from limited equipment traffic over a field. With autosteer, keeping to tramlines is easier than ever

Steve Larocque is going to put his words into action this year as he begins controlled traffic farming (CTF) on his south-central Alberta farm. The owner of Beyond Agronomy crop consulting services (based at Three Hills, was so impressed with a farming system he saw in Australia, he has written about it and given presentations on it. Now he wants to show how well the system works in Western Canada using his own land as a demonstration.

Larocque and his brother-in-law will switch about 640 acres at Morrin, just north of Drumheller, to controlled traffic farming. In a nutshell that means the only machinery or vehicle traffic on the field will be limited to tramline tracks spaced every 30 feet across the field. The point of CTF is to reduce soil compaction, which ultimately affects crop yield.

“I think soil compaction is a problem on just about all soils,” says Larocque. “I have tested a lot of fields using a penetrometer (a hand-held soil compaction tester that’s pushed into the soil as a probe) and it’s not hard to find some degree of compaction.”

Last year he probed many fields. In those first three or four feet on the outside edge of a headland where there was no vehicle traffic, he could push the probe in to a depth of three feet with little effort. But as he walked 10 or 15 feet into the field, where there had been vehicle traffic, he began to see resistance at a depth of three inches.

Robert Ruwoldt, a longtime zero-till farmer in Victoria State, Australia, is a strong advocate of CTF. He was in Alberta in late January to explain his farming system to about 1,200 producers attending the FarmTech Conference in Edmonton.

Ruwoldt, who has been practising CTF for seven years, says limiting machinery and vehicle traffic to permanent tramlines has significantly improved overall soil moisture retention and crop nutrient uptake on his 7,000-acre grain, oilseed and pulse crop farm at Horsham, about 300 kilometres northwest of Melbourne. How much difference has it made? On crops such as lentils, canola and wheat, Ruwoldt sees as much as a 100 to 300 per cent increase in production on crops where there has been no vehicle or machinery traffic, compared to areas of the field where there has been one or more passes with equipment.

Ruwoldt says the permanent tramlines on his farm represent about 11 per cent of field area, compared to what may be described as conventional uncontrolled machinery traffic, which could run over 40 to 60 per cent of the field area. That includes field operations such as seeding, two or more passes for spraying, and harvesting operations including combine, truck and grain cart traffic on the field. He says if you can get 100, 200 or 300 per cent yield increase over 40 to 50 per cent of a field, that is a significant difference.

Ruwoldt maintains that compaction is an issue on all soil types — wet or dry. He says even one trip over a field with a truck or tractor will affect the productivity of the soil where the wheels travelled.

He showed examples of the wheel path of a pickup over one of his fields, and it was only in those

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Lee Hart

Lee Hart is editor of Cattleman’s Corner based in Calgary.

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