Q: Why do plants at the end of crop rows become gradually shorter? I’ve wondered this for most of my 64 years.
A: I’ve observed the same thing but I’ve never stopped to figure out why! My guess is that it has something to do with the cultivation at the ends. That’s where the farmer lifts his plows to turn around, so the soil is more compacted and less tilled. In addition, she/he might stop fertilizing a few feet before the row ends to avoid wasting fertilizer during the turn around. Do my newspaper readers have any other explanations for this phenomenon?
Albert Ashby theorizes:
It is probably caused by excess deep soil compaction which limits water infiltration and impedes root development. The ends of the fields get more compaction because of tractors and other equipment turning around. The ends of the field are commonly used as haul roads for heavily loaded wagons and trucks used to haul the crops from the field. Here in the midwest, many farmers purposely do extra deep tillage in these areas in the fall so that water infiltration is better and allows freezing and thawing over winter to make the soil softer and more friable.