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Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs


Some years there are lots of ruts, holes and packed areas out in orchards, particularly any of the later harvested varieties. Visible rutting seems to be in 3 main areas – usually moderate soil packing to rutting in the inter row area, moderate to extensive soil disturbance at row entrances or wherever there is turning with a load and finally access roads or lanes, especially the grassed ones are really chewed up. The problem is not so much the weight and axles under any one load. It is the sheer number of trips under wet soil conditions that eventually causes the soil structure to fail.

Several studies have measured the soil density in the trafficked inter-row areas. Not surprisingly, orchards do have denser soils over the tractor path – usually 2 -4 times the width of the tractor tires – no matter how straight you drive. This soil density is something that accumulates over time with repeated trips to spray and harvest.

Managing rutted areas:

  • For badly packed and rutted areas – check your tile maps and take a look at your tile outlets to ensure that the tiles are still running well. Rutting and compaction in lanes crossing tile runs may have compressed the tile.
  • Scraping down packed lanes if soil moisture conditions allow, helps to level the lane and redirect surface water. Puddles and holes just get worse if you continue driving through them.
  • Shallowly rutted areas of the orchard will level out with time and some scraping/leveling will happen during mowing. Freeze-thaw and winter rains will also help to break down the edges and fill in shallow ruts.
  • Deeply rutted areas may need more extensive grading or tillage to make the area passable.
  • Take a critical look at surface water flow in your orchard, some of the worst ruts are in areas that have some side hill seep or tend to accumulate water from adjacent rows – this may be a good spot for some gravel or even a French drain.
  • For areas where ruts have formed on hills, some tillage may be needed to cover in the ruts and prevent the channeling of winter rains and spring melt water.
  • The best strategy will vary with each location based upon soil type, topography and a number of other factors.
Tractor ruts in muck soil
Click to enlarge.