By Anne Verhallen, Soil Management Specialist (Horticulture Crops) and Amanda Green, Tree Fruit Specialist
This spring has been one for the books, in the last 60 days most of the tree fruit and grape growing regions have received 150-200 % of average precipitation according to Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s Agroclimate maps. Wet conditions have made it quite difficult to get into orchards and vineyards with equipment, however, when you need to spray it has been critical to get in no matter what the state of the orchard or vineyard floor is in. Growers across the province have been talking about the large ruts they have and may be thinking about how to get their orchard floor back to order.
With perennial fruit systems, machinery is confined to a set of tracks going down the row which results in two lanes of packed soil with tighter soil structure. What causes the soil structure to fail and rut is not so much the weight of the tractor and sprayer but the number of trips on the same tracks. The worst affected areas are likely depressions or low areas where water tends to collect, laneways to get in and out of the orchards and vineyards and at the end of the rows where there is turning with a load.
What you can do now to reduce rutting
- Give the soil as much time as possible to drain before going into the orchard, even waiting a few hours can help.
- Reduce the weight of the load on the soil by spraying with half-full spray tanks when soil conditions are wet.
- Consider your tire pressure. It has been shown in field crop compaction work that if you reduce your tire pressure to 10-15 psi there will be less compaction. Before you reduce your tire pressure, make sure to check your tire specifications and with your machinery dealer first to make sure that your tire warranty is maintained.
- Check your tile outlets to see if tiles are still running well, using your tile map to locate the outlets. All the compaction and rutting could have compressed the tile and stopped or reduced the flow of water.
Repairing the ruts
- Scrape down packed lanes when soils begin to dry out. The puddles and holes will get worse over time if you continue to drive through them.
- Shallow ruts will level out with time. Some scraping and levelling will occur when mowing the grass. During the winter, the freeze/ thaw cycles and winter rains will help to break down the edges of the ruts and fill in the shallow ruts.
- With deeper ruts, you may need to do some tillage or extensive grading to level it all out.
- For ruts on hills or banks, some tillage may be needed to fill in the ruts so that further rain fall doesn’t channel down the ruts and cause erosion.
- If you are tempted to go in with deep tillage to alleviate compaction, you run the risk of catching a tile drain. You could also make the rutting deeper by allowing deeper compaction if cool and wet conditions continue to persist.
How to reduce ruts in the future
- During these wet conditions is the time to take a critical look at the flow of surface water in your orchard or vineyard, some of the worst areas are those which tend to accumulate water from adjacent rows or on the side of hills where side hill seep can occur (Figure 1).
- Consider creating gravel lanes in the worst areas rather than a grassy row middle.
- Install “French drains” which are trenches of gravel above the tiles to help water drain even more.