Monitoring Root Development

Monitoring Root Development from Central Valley Ag on Vimeo.

by Keith Byerly

by Keith Byerly

As we finally get this crop growing and have more temps in the 70’s than 50’s now we can evaluate what we’ve been through so far and its potential impacts. We have been watching crops that grew and stopped several times. Soil temps in the 50’s have been more the norm than we would ever believe for the month of May. And we know what the immediate impact has been. Ugly, yellow Corn that doesn’t seem to be moving along very fast. What we don’t know is what the future challenges will be, but we can make some educated guesses and start planning accordingly.

I think it is safe to say that the effects of this cool, wet weather are not completely behind us yet. I believe we need to begin to anticipate that we will have some root issues for a number of different reasons this season. First, I know that many of us planted into soils that were too wet. We didn’t want to, but the weather can only push us so far before we push back. We will see instances of hatchet roots at least in places, if not in entire fields. This will obviously mean a whole lot of challenges to face to get the crop to maturity and achieve a level of success.

Secondly, I think that the full soil profile will lead to this crop potentially not rooting as deep. Now obviously this is going to depend a great deal on what we get for precip in the next 30 days, but as it stands right now, we have a full profile and a month that typically gives us adequate rainfall across most of our territory. The crops need to root down for the water it needs will likely be reduced this year. Next, for those of you in the North at least, I think our ground is hard. Like digging up seeds in the furrow has required notably more force than normal. Will those hard soils inhibit root development? And then lastly, I believe that the cool weather has probably set the plant up for less root development than what would be normal.

So, that leads me to think that we need to develop a strategy to measure our root activity for the season so that we can make management decisions accordingly. I tout the benefits of AquaSystems often for our ability to make irrigation decisions, but I think a piece of the puzzle we often overlook is that the roots are the reason for what is showing up on our probe. And those roots are obviously the key to irrigation decisions, but how should they impact our other management decisions as well. Understanding the amount of roots we have for nitrogen uptake, dry spells and the like will equally impact our yield. It won’t just be about the decision of when your irrigation system should be turned on or off.

Face it; root development is key to growing our crop every year. But how often do we know how much impact it will potentially have on us before the corn is 12” tall? So that is my take home today. The AquaSystems probe this year is important for more management decisions than just irrigation. The only other way we are going to understand our roots equally as well is to dig up the roots of plants a few times per week and measure. And if you don’t have an AquaSystems probe scheduled for your farm for this year, then take action now. We have a few left before they are sold out, and time to still get them installed. Let’s make sure we take the information that is potentially in front of us into consideration before we make decisions about water, nitrogen, and yield potential for this season.