Keyline Plowing is One Approach for Addressing Soil Compaction

Compaction of soils is a common and significant problem on farms. 

Compacted soils limit harvest yields, and cause conservation concerns. Compaction often results in poor drainage, increased runoff, reduced soil aeration, and decreased root penetration and subsequent plant-access to available soil moisture. The compaction problem is common on many farms, especially in cool, humid regions of the country with a relatively short growing season (like the Northeastern U.S.).

Information on Tillage Radishes and Keyline Plowing for Farmers

Tractor dragging a tiller

Forage radishes produce a nutritious, high-yielding forage and large taproot capable of penetrating compact soil. Keyline plowing is a mechanical method to alleviate compaction, and a subsoiling practice that is refined in order to avoid turning over soil and decomposing organic matter.

Download information about both as tools for soil health: PDF icon Radish Keyline (PDF)

Addressing Pasture Compaction: A Publication Weighing the Pros & Cons of Two Options

Tillage Radishes Help with Compaction

Research team Josef Gorres, Jenn Colby, and Rachel Gilker (former UVM Pasture Program Coordinator) investigated the effect of two practices on pasture health.  One of these was Keyline subsoil tillage, a method that cuts through compacted soil to improve infiltration and aeration while redistributing water from wet to dry areas within a pasture.  The other technique was biodrilling with tillage radishes. The taproots of Daikon radishes push through the compacted layers of soil. Both methods maintain the no-till status of pasture and the perennial plant cover of a rotational pasture.

Download the 16-page PDF file: PDF icon Compaction (PDF)

Research Project: Demonstrating Effects of Biological and Mechanical Compaction Best Management Practices on Soil Properties and Water Movement

Compaction Research Team in the Field

Read about the details of the Compaction research.

Field Testing Soil Moisture Sensors for Improved Pasture Management

Soil Moisture Sensor in the Field

Soil health is critical for maximizing economic and environmental benefits in agriculture; preventing compaction is a key aspect of its management. Compacted soils hold less air and water, are less able to support diverse soil organisms, limit plant root depth and result in less infiltration and more runoff. All of these can lead to reduced forage yield and quality, and may negatively impact water quality.

Our team wondered: what if a farmer had real-time information about soil moisture conditions? Would a farmer have safe places to graze after rain events; could that help minimize compaction and maximize pasture production?.

This publication details the on-farm trial of remote soil moisture sensors on one Vermont farm.

Sensor Field Testing Soil Moisture Sensors for Improved Pasture Management:PDF icon Sensor Field Testing Soil Moisture Sensors for Improved Pasture Management (PDF)


Interested in knowing more about the Center's work or do you have a question we haven't answered here?  Contact us via email or 802-656-5459 and we'll do our best to help.

Woodcut of a farm with people gathering produce and cows grazing


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