Developing and Testing a Trafficability Index for Planting Corn and Cotton in the Texas Blackland Prairie
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The Texas Blackland Prairie is one of the most productive agricultural regions in Texas. This region provides a long growing season coupled with soils that have a high water holding capacity. However, the soils also provide significant challenges to producers because the high water holding capacity is a product of a high clay percentage. This research was aimed to develop and test an expert-based trafficabililty index, based upon soil moisture, for planting cotton (Gossypium hirsutum L.) and corn (Zea mays L.) on the Texas Blackland Prairie. Testing the index focused on quantify the potential effect of high soil moisture at planting on seed furrow sidewall compaction and associated plant growth response. Once the trafficability index was developed, three workable soil moisture regimes were recreated in no-tillage and conventional tillage plots at the Stiles Farm Foundation in Thrall, Texas. The index nomenclature included: "Dry-Workable", "Optimal" and "Wet-Workable". After planting corn and cotton into conventional and no tillage plots, 0.45 x 0.20 x 0.15 m intact soil blocks were removed from each plot and kept in a controlled environment. At 28 days, each block was destructively harvested to quantify plant root and shoot growth responses. Each of the three soil moisture indexes was replicated thrice per crop, and the whole experiment was replicated twice in time, n = 48 blocks. The trafficability index was created using three producer experts, and over 10 interviews to collect a range in soil moisture samples. From "Wet Workable" to "Dry Workable", the gravimetric soil moistures were 0.17, 0.22, and 0.26 g g-1. For corn and cotton, a positive relationship between plant growth factors and planting at soil moisture existed. Plants planted at the highest soil moisture emerged faster and developed more root and shoot biomass than those planted at the lowest soil moisture. No evidence of a detrimental plant response because of seed furrow, sidewall compaction from planting at too high a soil moisture content could be quantified. Furthermore, the cotton plants in no-tillage performed better than in conventional tillage, but corn performed better in conventional tillage. Because the results showed an advantage to plant growth by planting in the "Wet Workable" index, the tillage practice that allows the producer to enter the field with a planter at higher moisture contents appears to have an advantage.
Helms, Adam J. (2009). Developing and Testing a Trafficability Index for Planting Corn and Cotton in the Texas Blackland Prairie. Master's thesis, Texas A&M University. Available electronically from