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Mapping time-to-trafficability for California agricultural soils after dormant season deep wetting


Soil compaction is a threat to agricultural soil function due to constriction of macro- and meso-pores necessary for air and water movement and crop root elongation. Soils are most vulnerable to compaction when moist. Agricultural soils saturated from winter precipitation or from intentional flooding for groundwater recharge may limit growers’ operational access to fields. The objective of this research was to develop guidance for rain-free “time-to-trafficability” (including shallow workability—when a soil is conducive to both tillage and traffic) after deep wetting, using soil survey data, pedotransfer functions, and a hydroclimatological modeling approach. Trafficability is defined as a threshold of field capacity (θfc) at the soil surface (0–10 cm), ranging from 85% of θfc (clays and silty clays) to 95% of θfc (sands and loamy sands). The θfc threshold is guided by the soil texture plasticity index, an indicator of compaction risk. 2911 soil profiles from soil survey databases were subjected to a wetting simulation, followed by drainage and evaporation using HYDRUS-1D across 11 locations representing mean annual potential evapotranspiration (PET) quantiles from 5% to 95%, four months (January-April), and three different years, assuming no precipitation. Rain-free time-to-trafficability was greatest in fine and loamy soils during cold months (January and February). However, seasonal effects on time-to-trafficability were more pronounced in loamy soils. Non-linear predictive functions were developed for each 0–10 cm textural class to enable mapping the typical time-to-trafficability across PET gradients, revealing clear regional and temporal patterns. Model derived estimates can inform agricultural managed aquifer recharge timing decisions and subsequent risk of soil compaction. Additional research is needed for validation and to better constrain time-to-trafficability estimates for loamy and fine textured soils, which show a greater degree of uncertainty amid greater risk of compaction indicated by plasticity indices.

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