Ever heavier agricultural machinery puts soils under pressure

Zurich-Reckenholz, 24.09.2019 - Increasing mechanisation in agriculture has two sides: on the one hand, it makes many field operations easier for farmers. On the other hand, more power and performance also mean larger and heavier agricultural vehicles.

For example, wheel loads of combine harvesters have increased more than fivefold in the last 60 years, and modern agricultural vehicles may exceed wheel loads of 10 tonnes. This literally puts soils under pressure.

Experts from Agroscope and partner institutions in Switzerland, Germany and Sweden have analysed how the historical increase in machinery weights has influenced soil properties and functions. The researchers show that the increase in machinery weights has increased soil compaction levels and decreased root growth, which has negative effects on crop yields. In addition, this trend has led to a reduction in the infiltration capacity of the soil, exacerbating the risk of flooding.

Although the damage caused by soil compaction is difficult to quantify in monetary terms, the researchers’ estimates show that the costs to agriculture and society are substantial. These costs stem primarily from crop yield losses and flood damage, but also from increased greenhouse gas emissions. Taking Sweden as an example, the researchers put the cost of productivity losses and flood damage at several hundred million euros - per year!

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