Soil compaction has been estimated to be responsible for 33 million ha of soil degradation in Europe, reducing crop yields, however there is limited data on grassland silage yields loss. Extended grazing periods, increased size and weight of farm vehicles and more extreme weather have fostered concern over the consequences of grassland management on reduced grass yield and soil quality. This work aimed at studying the effect of increased animal trampling and mechanical (tractor) soil compaction on grassland silage mean dry matter (DM) yields and soil structure over a three year period at two UK sites. These sites were on two established perennial ryegrass fields with contrasting soil textures; an imperfectly drained silty clay loam in SW Scotland and a well drained sandy loam from central England. Results showed trampling and tractor compaction decreased mean DM yields over three years and by the third year DM yield for the trampled area was 11.4% less on the soil with greater clay content soil and 12.0% less on the more sandier soil than the no compaction control. DM yield for the tractor compaction, by the third year, was 14.5% less than no compaction DM yield, on both soil types. Compaction treatments gave the greatest reductions for the first silage cut DM yields annually, for both soil types. The largest reductions (19.0% for trampling and 37.7% for tractor) were on the soil with the greater clay content in the second year, with the coolest start to the growing season. Compaction reduced N uptake, decreased drainage and increased water filled pore spaces (WFPS). Linear regression of visual evaluation of soil structure (VESS) scores and bulk densities provided evidence that VESS is an effective tool for detecting grassland compaction and would assist with the management of moderately compacted soils where deteriorate soil conditions may result in yield loss.
- Soil compaction
- Bulk density
- Visual Evaluation of Soil Structure