Translating a technical book on agriculture from the German, I am looking for a word that describes the thin hardpan created by conventional rotary tillers in a field. The literal translation from the German "Schmierhorizont" would be "smear horizon" - a word that also implies that the soil capillaries are “smeared” shut by the blades of those implements. Is there a correct technical term for it in English, preferably used by U.S. farmers? Neither my dictionaries nor the internet have helped so far...

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    I found "plough pan" being used in this sense landis.org.uk/downloads/downloads/structure_brochure.pdf But this would need a technical specialist to judge if he word was being used correctly.
    – James K
    Commented Nov 29, 2023 at 22:18
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    Many questions have to be moved from English Language and Usage to here, but this could be a candidate for moving to there. But please read the instructions for the "word-request" tag and include a sample sentence showing how such a word would be used. Commented Nov 29, 2023 at 22:53
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    @AndyBonner - Quite a few questions are migrated from ELU to here which would have been better closed in ELU. I feel that it's lazy, patronising, and irritating. Commented Nov 29, 2023 at 23:00
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    It's probably discussed in here or you can call them: sensoterra.com/news/… I often call companies when translating and talk to the experts. They can always help and are delighted with the interest shown to them.
    – Lambie
    Commented Nov 29, 2023 at 23:22
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    This page uses "smearing" for the process, a type of soil compaction; I think you could use "smear" or "smearing" as a noun for the result.
    – Stuart F
    Commented Nov 30, 2023 at 11:19

2 Answers 2


"Plough pan" would seem to be the technical term.

See https://treeterms.co.uk/files/definitions/plough-pan/


As you have discovered, translation is far more than substituting one word for another. Many German words, especially compound words, don't translate to English directly. My favourite example is schraube und mutter which would literally translate as "screw and mother" and mean nothing to an English speaker. Using a German-to-English dictionary to translate each word is no use - the translator has to know that we call the same thing a nut and bolt.

Although I'm not an expert in the field (no pun intended), my father came from a farming background, and he isn't aware of a term for the layer of soil produced by rotary tilling. There is a term for the upper layer of soil - topsoil - and a term for what tilling aims to prevent - soil crusting. Topsoil is the upper layer of soil in which most plants are rooted and the total depth of soil that is overturned by plowing. Soil crusting is what happens to the uppermost layer of topsoil in heavy rain and the crust decreases permeability. There is also the term bulk soil which refers to all of the soil outside of the plant's rhizosphere. Any crust formed is considered separate from the bulk soil and the aim of tilling is to return that to the same.

  • which would literally translate as "screw and mother" and mean nothing to an English speaker well, it made my inner 13 year old go 'tee-hee'. Commented Nov 30, 2023 at 15:41

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