What Is A Subsoiler?

Also known as a flat lifter, a subsoiler is an implement used in agriculture for deep tillage. Where other implements such as disc harrows, rototillers, and moldboard plows can only reach depths of 15-20 cm (5.9 – 7.9 in), a subsoiler can loosen the soil at double that depth. 

Subsoilers are usually mounted on the front of a tractor. Their shape resembles that of a chisel plow, except that a subsoiler is made with a stronger shank or leg, which helps it resist the higher force needed to till soil at a greater depth.   

In this article, we’ll be taking a look at what a subsoiler is, it’s purpose, and the difference between a subsoiler and a plow. We’ll also take a look at some subsoiling best practices to make sure you get the best crop you can.

What’s The Purpose of A Subsoiler? 

A common issue faced by almost all crop producers is soil compaction. The effects of soil compaction are both damaging and costly to crop production.

In simple terms, soil compaction happens when soil particles are pressed together. This pressing together reduces the amount of pore space between them. Due to this, compacted soil has reduced rates of both water drainage and filtration. 

As you can imagine, compacted subsoil is more difficult to handle than surface-level soil. That’s where a subsoiler comes in. 

Subsoilers are usually raised and lowered hydraulically, but some models have power-take-off (PTO) driven vibrating devices. As the subsoiler is raised and lowered, it breaks up the compacted soil. 

What Are The Benefits Of Using A Subsoiler? 

As explained, soil compaction is a serious issue for crops. They need plenty of semi-loose soil beneath them to allow for proper water seepage and for the roots to breathe.

Using a subsoiler before planting, in areas where soil compaction is a problem, ensures improved growth. This translates to a higher yield. 

Subsoilers can penetrate to a depth of 24 inches. At this depth, they would be ripping tree roots in a treeline or ripping hard-pan in a trail. This ensures that the water falling on the ground makes it all the way down to the roots of the vegetation.

What Is The Difference Between A Subsoiler And A Plow? 

The main purpose of a plow is to turn the uppermost layer of soil over. By doing this, a plow brings nutrient rich soil to the surface and at the same time, buries crop remains and weeds to decompose. Typically, a plow will turn over the first 12 to 25 cm of topsoil, as most plant-feeding roots grow to this depth. 

The main difference between a subsoiler and a plow is that a plow turns over the top layer of soil, whereas a subsoiler breaks up compacted soil at a deeper level. 

The composition of these two different layers of soil is also important. Topsoil is usually a mixture of silt, sand, clay, and broken down organic matter. Subsoil has a slightly different composition. It contains broken down organic matter but is mostly weathered rocks and clay minerals. 

Subsoiling Best Practices 

Identify Areas Of Compacted Soil

A tell-tale sign that an area of land has compacted soil is the crop yield. By monitoring the yields of certain areas, you will be better able to assess whether this problem is occurring and where.

If you suspect an area of land has compacted soil, the best way to know for sure is to grab a spade and dig down to see what is happening below the surface soil.

A classic sign of compacted soil is varying moisture levels. If there is a sudden change in the level of moisture at a certain depth in the profile, and you know you’ve dug below the topsoil level, chances are this is soil compaction. 

Timing Is Everything

When it comes to subsoiling, doing it at the correct time is very important. The latter part of autumn tends to have heavy rainfall (depending on the climate where you live, of course) and as such the soil will be too wet. Late summer to early autumn tends to be the best time to use a subsoiler. 

It is also not a good idea to the subsoil and then leave the land fallow. You’ll want to put some roots into the ground to stabilize the soil and exploit its structure. 

Soil Type Is Key 

Soils which have intensive root crops in them would benefit greatly from subsoiling. If you have soil with a low calcium content and high levels of sand or silt, it would benefit from subsoiling. Ground that is also prone to slumps or has high rainfall before crop cover also benefits. 

Wrapping Up

Knowing when, where, and how to use a subsoiler can have plenty of benefits. From giving the soil a new lease of life to getting a higher yield from your crops. 

Ryan Genkin
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