Comparable in weight to sauropods, agricultural machinery threatens almost 20% of arable land in the world

(ORDO NEWS) — Scientists warn that as modern harvesters and other farm equipment now approach the weight of the largest animals that have ever roamed the Earth, the paradox of soil compaction is emerging.

Over the past 60 years, mechanization has helped improve agriculture and greatly increase its efficiency. However, people’s demands and consumption are growing, and with them the carrying capacity of agricultural equipment: combines today are almost ten times heavier than in the 1960s.

The result has been the insidious and largely ignored threat of soil compaction, in which air is forced out of the pores between soil grains. This increases its erosion and reduces productivity.

Scientists from the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences in Uppsala and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich have confirmed that modern agricultural machinery, comparable in weight to four-legged herbivorous sauropod dinosaurs , is putting critical loads on the soil, causing it to chronically compact in root zones – below the level of cultivation – and negatively affecting functioning.

According to various estimates, the largest sauropods – Argentinosaurs (although there are other contenders for this place ) – weighed an average of 60 tons, which is comparable to the weight of a modern fully loaded combine harvester.

Imagine if these gigantic lizards had ruthlessly trampled the arable land, ramming until most of the air and water had been squeezed out of the soil.

“Consolidation can happen in seconds as we drive across the ground, but it can take decades to recover,” said Professor Thomas Keller, lead author of the study.

According to scientists, while the stresses acting on the contact surface remained practically unchanged during the development of agriculture, the stresses in the soil propagated to deeper layers and now exceed all safe limits.

Using several databases of combine, tractor and tire characteristics, as well as information on soil composition and climatic conditions, the researchers created a global map showing soil susceptibility to compaction.

“We found that 20% of the world’s arable land is at risk of chronic compaction, especially in regions that play a major role in global food production.

As the weight of modern agricultural machines approaches that of sauropods, questions are being raised about the potential impact of these giants on land productivity.

We assume that the unlimited “vagrancy” of sauropods would have the same adverse consequences for arable land as today’s agricultural machinery,” the authors of the work write.

Comparable in weight to sauropods agricultural machinery threatens almost 20 of arable land in the world
A global map based on mechanization levels, farm sizes, estimated farm equipment size, soil texture and soil moisture. Countries with the highest risk of soil compaction are shown in red, with the lowest risk in green

The degree of soil compaction depends on the specific agricultural machine, its operation, as well as the type of soil and humidity. For example, farms in North America and Europe face the greatest risks, because they use the largest equipment, and the soil is especially rich in moisture. In the zone of least risk were some arid regions.

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