Impacts of poor soil structure

Poorly structured soils reduce water infiltration and can lead to erosion, and surface ponding and crusting. Compaction causes a reduction in air spaces between soil particles.

Back to: Soil structure

Compaction and erosion

Compacted soils have restricted pore space and aggregates that are either large and angular, or absent (structureless or ‘massive’).

Any cracks and fissures tend to be horizontal rather than vertical, resulting in a ‘platy’ structure (like a stack of plates).

Compacted soil layers are dense, restrict water movement, and roots cannot proliferate, tending to run horizontally along the upper surface of the layer.

Soil compaction can impact the efficiency and economics of production in a number of ways, resulting in:

  • Poor rooting and reduced crop yield and quality
  • Less crop uniformity
  • Poor drainage
  • Reduced timeliness (fewer days when land can be worked by machinery)
  • Increased fuel use: 50%+
  • Higher weed/disease pressure

Higher irrigation costs (typical overall operating costs for a 25 mm application are £85–£155/ha)

Soils that are compacted or cap easily are more vulnerable to erosion and surface run-off, which can result in soil loss, declining productivity and off-site impacts involving neighbours and local authorities.

Useful links

See visual examples of good and poor soil structure in the Environment Agency thinksoils manual

Read the Principles of soil management guide

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Amanda Bennett

Senior Environment Manager (Soil Health & RB209)

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Examples of poorly structured soils

Top: Sandy loam soil showing compaction (large platy aggregates) after late harvest of potatoes in wet conditions

Bottom: Clay soil showing compaction (dense layer with evidence of waterlogging) following overstocking in wet conditions

Images © Environment Agency, thinksoils