Do you want to know if subsoiling your farm is worth the cost and labour? If YES, here are 12 advantages and disadvantages of subsoiling. Soil health is very crucial to the success of any farm, large or small. The state of your soil more or less correlates with that which you are able to grow from it.

That is why it is imperative to give your soil the time and attention it needs.  One way to invigorate soil is by sub-soiling with a low disturbance tool. Even though it depends on the region in which your farm is located, you could have one of many types of soils.

Note that some soils are naturally low maintenance whereas other soils are expected to be coaxed along by actions such as subsoiling. For instance, silty or clay loam soil are known to be quite prone to compression on their own but this compression increases with the passage of heavy machinery atop it.

For soil such as this, subsoiling at a depth of 12 to 18 inches (which is much deeper than a standard subsoiling at 6 to 8 inches) will help increase root aeration and give water a place to go, retaining it and also giving it better access to crops that require it for survival. This ultimately translates to more nutrient and mineral access by crops, which in turn affects your yield and bottom line.

Even healthy soil can prove to be too tight to allow water access and can benefit from subsoiling. But irrespective of if your mineral and nutrient levels are where you want them to be, you could still be faced with a compressed layer of soil known as a plow pan.

When this is the case, water will collect on the surface of soil, leading one to believe proper hydration is present. But in reality, however, tight soil stops water from penetrating it, so all the water you see is unable to reach deep roots to nourish them. Then the roots themselves tend to also not penetrate the plow pan and may grow sideways, and this is not good for their health or that of nearby crops.

But irrespective of the many benefits of Subsoiling, it also comes with some disadvantages you should consider extensively. For instance, Subsoiling is hard work that requires equipment to complete, which in turn raises production costs.

Although it is advisable not to let this get you down, because with the rising costs come a rise in yield, more or less offsetting the addition expense over time. Subsoiling also saves money by allowing crops to be saved which otherwise might have failed to thrive due to growing sideways or not having access to water and essential soil nutrients.

Note that by subsoiling a small portion of your property, you can easily have a controlled experiment in order to verify for yourself if this is something you need. Also the results could either dazzle or dismay, but the more you know about your soil’s needs, the better you will be able to farm it in the long run.

6 Advantages of Subsoiling

Subsoiling works by lifting the soil and fracturing the structure to create a looser and more ‘aerated’ soil that allows nutrients to flow and roots to grow. But before you start another planting season, here are some reasons why you should consider Subsoiling as a seasonal routine project.

1. Eliminates Compaction

Subsoiling helps you remove compaction damage from pugging and machinery traffic. Subsoiling is most important in high traffic areas such as water troughs, gateways and feed out areas where compaction levels are higher than the rest of the paddock. Aerated soils enable more vigorous and deeper root growth for healthier crops and plants.

2. Improved soil drainage

Note that in an aerated soil, there is also greater drainage of surplus ground water, this reduces and eliminates ponding and surface water on your paddocks, along with improved soil drainage comes a benefit of reduced runoff as the water is ‘soaked’ into the ground along with any nutrients that enhance growth.

3. Deeper Root Structure

Have it in mind that soil compaction tends to hamper root growth and the depth to which roots can grow, with subsoiling the ground is broken up to offer good conditions for easier root growth, this results in more vigorous and deeper root structures that take up more nutrients and provide greater resilience in dry spells and other weather events, enabling pastures and crops to ‘hold on’ for longer.

4. Greater Fertiliser Uptake

When soils are compacted or do not have sufficient permeability, fertiliser is wasted. According to experts, this is because the fertilizer is not absorbed into the ground and is simply vaporized or washed off the surface and not into it. When soil is aerated and permeable, the fertiliser absorbs into the soil and is more readily taken up by the roots.

5. Greater Soil Porosity

Greater porosity of soils also entails that the level of oxygen in the soil is increased as it flows more freely in permeable ground, this speeds up plant growth as more oxygen becomes available at root level. While compacted, soils decrease oxygen levels and increases the amount of carbon dioxide in the ground, this causes an eventual slowdown in growth.

6. Increase in Pasture Growth

The reason why farmers end up aerating and sub soiling paddocks is to increase pasture growth. It has been proven that by aerating and subsoiling you can receive a 22% increase in pasture growth.

Disadvantages of Subsoiling

Just like other production practices, subsoiling has its advantages and disadvantages. Howbeit, before running out to rent Subsoiling equipment, perhaps it’s imperative to consider the following disadvantages.

a. Erosion

Note that subsoiling lifts and loosens the soil, which makes it prone to erosion. The organic matter atop it – both living and decaying — helps to keep the valuable, nutrient – rich topsoil in place. But with Subsoiling you uproot everything and turn that organic matter topsy – turvy. The issues with doing that are that the best soil becomes more likely to wash away in heavy rains or whisk away in blustering winds.

b. Soil Life

Agreeably, Subsoiling tends to make the ground more fertile, but the issue is that this effect is mostly temporary. Soil fertility comes from the decomposition of soil life. Regular Subsoiling or tilling will more or less make the soil devoid of life, after which the fertility will disappear. During Subsoiling, especially with machines, we kill all sorts of amazing insects, worms, and microorganisms that work on behalf of farmers. Alive, they provide consistent fertility.

c. Drying Out

A lot of farmers in the United States rush out in late winter or early spring to get the soil turned so that it dries out. This drying out, notwithstanding, also kills the microorganisms and soil life. Instead, when farmers create no – till raised farms, they have good drainage. Waterlogged soils are a real problem, but they are easily avoidable by using raised beds and continually adding organic matter atop the soil, which the soil life will work to incorporate into the existing soils.

d. Weeds

Yes, Subsoiling helps to get rid of weeds, normally by chopping up the roots and destroying existing plants. While the chopped roots theory is not all wrong, the problem is that turning the soil exposes a plethora of dormant weed seeds to the elements (and many grow anew from root cuttings), in essence encouraging new weeds to propagate. Weeds’ favourite spot to grow is in disturbed soils.

e. It Has No Long Term Effect

Subsoiling and tilling in general simply is not for the long game. It is known to provide immediate fertility, but it destroys the soil life, the source of long – term fertility. It also opens up avenues for wind and water erosion, which carries away quality topsoil and eventually leaves growers with only infertile subsoil to work with. Instead, it pays to foster and feed the soil, working with it rather than ripping it up.

f. Labour

Remember that Subsoiling is a lot of back – breaking work, even with a machine, which can make the task easier but is not exactly a walk in the park. Nonetheless, the new no – till methods that are popular these days are both kinder to the soil and to the farmer. We no longer have to dig up heavy soil, turn it, and chop it up. These days you can simply add compost and mulches to the top each year, and a fertile soil with good structure builds itself through natural processes.

Conclusion

According to experts, a grower has three options with subsoiling: not to subsoil at all, subsoil every year, or subsoil occasionally. However, research has shown that subsoiling every two or three years produces the same benefits as subsoiling every year, which is good news for farmers because of the expense. Also, plots are farmed with relatively light equipment, so try not to recompact the soil the way many farmers do.

Joy Nwokoro