News and knowhow for farmers

Soil compaction robs farmers of 60% of their yield

As Kenyan farmers increasingly mechanise their agricultural practices to raise their yields and earnings, farmers should be wary of degrading soils through heavy agriculture machinery compaction. 

Soil compaction is mainly caused by use of heavy machinery and traditional land preparation methods. It increases soil density which decreases the tiny holes within the soil and can lead to a 60 per cent reduction in crop yield.  

The long-term use of traditional mechanical land preparation methods such as chisel and moldboard plowing also aids in increasing soil compaction. This is because these methods of soil cultivation lead to the development of a hardpan close to the soil’s surface limiting plant root depth and preventing the soil’s internal drainage.

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According to the Agricultural Sector Transformation and Growth Strategy (ASTGS), the use of simple and heavy-duty farm machinery on Kenya’s arable land currently stands at 30 per cent. The government is looking to have this reach 50 per cent by 2030.

The FAO notes that four per cent of global land area is estimated to be compacted with North Africa being the most affected region in the continent. Compaction is especially severe in wet, clay soil and is increased by the use of heavy machinery during planting and harvesting, especially in wet soil conditions.

Soil compaction refers to the squeezing together of the soil’s particles. Its main symptoms and affects are poor soil drainage and aeration which increases surface water runoff and soil erosion. Stunted or malformed crop root growth which causes shallow poorly formed roots. This is because once the roots hit the soil’s hardpan, they grow horizontally rather than vertically. Poor root growth inevitably leads to stunted vegetative growth above ground.

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Compaction also lessens the ability of plants to recover from disturbance.

“Unlike other forms of soil degradation, compaction is often difficult to detect and measure and can limit crop growth and yield without presenting any obvious symptoms. When symptoms are present, such as stunted crop growth, nutrient deficiency, or poor water infiltration, they may be attributed to other causes.”–(

Photo Courtesy: forigo

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