Leveling Soil for Planter Operation

April 7, 2010

By Mark Hanna, Department Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering ; and Mahdi Al-Kaisi, Department of Agronomy 

Last fall wet soil conditions during harvest time created unavoidable soil destruction and significant soil scars or ruts. Most likely significant soil compaction took place as the ruts were made. The wheel ruts remaining from harvest and general irregularities after primary fall tillage often lead growers to consider spring tillage to level the soil for subsequent planting operations. 

Although many fields have a chance to drain between rainfall events, soil below a couple of inches of the surface still remains at field capacity moisture content and may be too wet and plastic to respond well to tillage. Soil at field capacity water content is in ideal condition for maximum soil compaction. Therefore if you are planning to work these soil ruts out, check your soil moisture condition before conducting any tillage operation and avoid worsening the problem by increasing soil compaction.

If you determine the soil is dry enough to work, closely check the rut conditions and how deep these cuts are in the soil surface to decide proper management.
• Unless surface irregularities are deeper than planting depth (e.g., 1.5 to 2 inches), tillage is likely not needed ahead of the planter to maintain seed depth.
• If deeper surface irregularities are present, consider shallow tillage with a field cultivator or light tandem disk in those areas to level soil for planter operation. 
• Tilling soil only surface soil avoids pushing, smearing, and compacting wetter soil below the surface. 

For further information on handling ruts left from fall harvest see Soil Management of Harvest Ruts.

Mark Hanna is an extension agricultural engineer in agricultural and biosystems engineering with responsibilities in field machinery. Hanna can be reached at hmhanna@iastate.edu or (515) 294-0468. Mahdi Al-Kaisi is an associate professor in agronomy with research and extension responsibilities in soil management and environmental soil science. He can be reached at malkaisi@iastate.edu or (515) 294-8304.

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Authors: 

Mark Hanna Scientist II

Dr. H. Mark Hanna is an extension agricultural engineer with Iowa State University. Hanna’s main focus is sustainable agricultural systems, including chemical application, energy consumption, tillage/planting, and harvest. His research focus has been on developing ways for field equipment to en...

Mahdi Al-Kaisi Professor of Soil Management/ Environment

Mahdi Al-Kaisi is a professor of agronomy and extension soil and water specialist at Iowa State University. His current research and extension in soil management and environment focuses on the effects of crop rotation, tillage systems, residue management, and nitrogen input on soil carbon dynamic...