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Get Rid of Hard Pan Soil for Better Row Crop Yields

by Mike Brandolino

Tractor ripping in the early seasonThe everyday farming activities of plowing fields and seasonal crop harvests are causing some serious issues underground. The heavy tractors and other farm equipment operating in the fields compress the soil which each pass. Season after season, the sub-surface soil continues to be compacted, which is known as “hard pan”.

The location of the hard pan area below the surface is determined by many factors, such as soil type, soil moisture content, and the size and weight of the farm equipment.

Effects of Hard Pan

Hard pan soil poses many problems for farmers. The compacted soil can cause:

  • Chemical run-off into creeks, lakes, ponds, rivers, and streams
  • Decreased seed germination
  • Decreased root and plant growth
  • Flooding and washed out crops
  • Poor water drainage
  • Loss of soil crop protection chemicals and fertilizers from run-off
  • Reduced soil aeration, which can result in stunted crops
  • Standing water
  • Topsoil erosion

All of these conditions can result in reduced row crop yields and the loss of income.

Subsoiling Gets Rid of Hard Pan

After the harvest and before winter sets in, one of the recommended ways to get rid of hard pad is with subsoiling.

Subsoiling is very deep tillage. It extends to about 12 to 18 inches below the soil surface to break up the hard pan.

Conventional tillage is only about 6 to 8 inches deep, which is too shallow to reach the layer of compacted hard pan soil.

Subsoiling provides soil aeration and improved soil drainage. Standing water, flooding, run-off, and topsoil erosion is reduced or possibly even eliminated. After the hard pan is broken, seed germination will increase, plant root growth will improve, and the crops will be much healthier.

All these improved conditions from subsoiling can result in better soil health and increased row crop yields.

However, excessive subsoiling can result in the soil being too soft and it will absorb too much water. If the soil becomes too saturated, there is the potential for root rotting to occur.

Subsoiling and hard pan removal is an effective way to get better crop yields. But, use caution when subsoiling to avoid sloppy water saturated soil and crop losses.

Contact your local Agricultural Research Extension Agent for advice and recommendations for subsoiling on your farm.


“Breaking Up the Hardpan” Australian Government. Grains Research and Development Corporation. Accessed 14 OCT 2011

“Break It Up: Subsoiling Study Eyes Winter Tillage”. Ag Answers. Ohio State Extension and Purdue Extension. November 22, 2005. Accessed 14 OCT 2011

“Subsoiling. To Do or Not to Do. That is the Question” Agvise Laboratories.. Accessed 15 OCT 2011