The compaction susceptibility of soils in the Free State
Nhantumbo, Alfredo Bernardino Julio Da Costa
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Crop production in the Free State is mainly performed on sandy soils. The compaction of these apedal soils can present a management problem which affects crop yields and financial returns. In addition, environmental problems such as soil erosion and siltation of rivers may result. The main objective of the study was to see whether the easily measured soil properties, texture and organic matter, could be used to classify the compact ion degree of soils and to predict their compaction susceptibility. Additional objectives were to define critical densities beyond which crop growth would be impeded, to test the applicability of the relative bulk density concept proposed by Bennie & Van Antwerpen (1988) and to propose a procedure for the prediction and classification of the compactibility of the soils in the Free State. Finally, the results were compared to the data from forestry soils (Smith, 1995) for more humid conditions. Twenty two (22) samples of selected soils covering a large range of soil texture variation were submitted to a determination of the maximum bulk density (using the Proctor test), minimum bulk density, uniaxial compression test and penetrometer resistance measurements. A procedure for the determination of minimum bulk density was developed. Good quadratic relationships were obtained between the maximum bulk density and silt plus clay or organic matter content as loss on ignition. The minimum bulk density can be predicted from the silt plus clay percentage or loss on ignition. When the actual bulk density and the silt plus clay or loss on ignition percentages are available, the relationships allow the estimation of maximum and minimum bulk densities. The measured bulk density can then be used to calculate the relative bulk density of a soil. Threshold relative bulk density classes (5) were derived which can be used to evaluate the degree of denseness or looseness of the soil, and its suitability for different applications. It is proposed that compactibility be regarded as the difference between the maximum and minimum bulk densities, instead of simply the maximum bulk density. Different classes of compactibility were derived. The compression index of all the soils at the critical water content showed good relationships with the silt plus clay, clay or organic matter contents of the soils. Compressibility classes were also established. A combination of the compactibility and compressibility of soils was used to determine its susceptibility to compaction. Compaction susceptibility was classified into five groups varying from very low to very high degrees of susceptibility for apedal soils. The data set from this study when combined with the data reported from the study of forestry soils by Smith (1995), made it possible to derive equations with a more universal applicability for the prediction of the maximum and minimum bulk densities, critical water content as well as compression index. The results from this investigation, when properly transferred in popular terminology set guidelines for the evaluation of the degree of compactness and compaction susceptibility of soils. These guidelines will allow persons responsible for soil evaluation to draw more meaningful conclusions from bulk density measurements.