Its fall now, most of you hay growers in Central Oregon are wrapping up the 2011 season, and are thinking about next years crops.  This is the time to get in your fields and get those old hay stands torn out and ready to plant next spring.   If you are planning on replanting your hay fields, or like me, switching to other crops, you will most likely find heavy compaction in your fields.  This is the best time to address that compaction.

Last spring I took out roughly 200 acres of hay ground and put in wheat, I used a medium duty disk, as well as a chisel plow to do my tillage, and I got about 9 inches down on most of my fields.  I knew that I had compaction but I was unwilling to invest in a subsoiler to take care of the issue.  During the growing season I dug down with a shovel and right below where I tilled, the compacted dirt was still there, and my roots had stopped right at the layer.  Now I did not care as much about it with my wheat, but if I had an alfalfa stand trying to sink tap roots down, it would definitely impacted my hay yields.  Besides root growth, compaction also could limit moisture availability and ph levels as well.

Central Oregon has sandy soil, and unlike the mid-west or other areas of the country, compaction is not as big of an issue.  However, many fields are in hay and are driven over year after year with heavy tractors, balers, and stackwagons, and even with our sandy soil, compaction will occur.  Also,  few growers want to deal with the expense of a subsoiler, or even have enough horsepower to pull a ripper.  In addition to these issues, we also have rocks, rocks and more rocks, tilling just a few inches down limits the expense of rock-picking.  Although all these problems make light, shallow tillage seem like the best idea, I believe that if you are going to replant a field, the investment of breaking that compaction is worth it, especially if you own a large enough tractor.

Subsoilers are expensive, because of our rocky country, we need the protection of spring-loaded equipment.  There are many shearbolt subsoilers on the market, but at least in my fields, I would be spending more time putting new bolts in, than actually getting the job done.   New subsoilers from Case or John Deere run around $9,000 for a 5 shank, but if I can find a used one, that will be the path I will follow to conserve my precious capital. 

Spread out over several years, I think my cost will be around $30 per acre to subsoil, and rock picking will be around $20 per acre, so for a total cost of $50,  I should have my compaction problem taken care of for at least two years, and less rocks to deal with next year.  At the current market price of $7 per bushel, it will take less than 8 bushels to pay off the additional cost of subsoiling.  If you are a hay grower, it will take about 1/3 ton more yield the first year to pay off the subsoiling, and every year afterward, the additional yield will be pure profit.  Some guys I have talked to say that deep tillage adds as much as an extra ton of yield for three years, so that is an additional $100 or so per acre profit.

With all the benefits of deep tillage, I think it is an absolute necessity to invest in subsoiling if you are replanting hay fields, or any other crop for that matter if you have compaction.  I don’t know of any custom guys that offer deep tillage, but I will be interested in doing custom work to help make the payment on the implement, so if you are interested in having some deep tillage done, contact me this fall or next spring..