Here are five basic steps to improve the root quality of your crops. Proper nutrient placement and attention to disease control are simple starting points

Root care is a vital component of producing a healthy and plentiful crop — and it’s not just for pulses. The purpose of root care is to protect roots from disease and insects and to protect root hairs for maximum nutrient uptake, promote a better plant stand, and ultimately help support a bigger yield. If you’re a cereal grower, consider this your reminder to implement smart root care practices as part of your comprehensive plan to produce the most out of your crop this year. The following are five of the most important elements of root care.

1. Seed quality

Using certified seed is the best way to ensure seed quality. You may spend more on certified seed, but it is a simple and effective way of achieving good germination, better stand, and increased vigour throughout your crop. If you’re not using certified seed, it’s worth testing your seed to assess quality and learn what seed-borne illnesses it may already have. You can eliminate diseases such as common root rot or fusariam by applying the appropriate fungicide — if you know what your seed is infected with. A seed quality test can reveal what you need to know and may enable you to take action that will ultimately improve your yield. For example, studies have indicated that germination can be improved by 15 to 20 per cent if seed is applied with a fungicide for the respective disease. Nonetheless, it is generally recognized that certified seed is your best bet for a strong start. Remember that seed quality diminishes over time, so if you’re using seed that’s been in your bin, you might not get the best results.

2. Seed Placement

Seed placement is critical to good germination, and fostering a healthy, strong crop. When seeding, make sure to plant your seeds an equal distance apart every time, and ensure good soil compaction. Skips and doubles could mean you have greater competition among your plants and as a result, poorer germination and plant quality. A smooth, even spread of seed means roots will grow deeper and access more nutrients under the soil. To ensure the best seed placement possible, take stock of your equipment. If you are using an airseeder, make sure that the air is flowing smoothly from all ends of the machine, as an uneven air flow means the seeds won’t be placed evenly. If you’re using treated seed, make sure the seed is dried before planting. Wet seeds could slow down or gum up the airflow, causing erratic placement. Finally, be sure to use a double shoot system when using an air seeder, which has one line for fertilizer and one line for seed. A one-shoot system won’t dispense the seed as effectively.

3. Seed Treatment

Seed treatment is an effective way to defend your roots against pests and diseases and to safeguard your yield. When selecting a seed treatment, choose one that moves systemically up the shoot and down to the root. This means it provides more thorough protection and doesn’t just protect a portion of the root. Seed treatments can help guard against soil-borne diseases and can ultimately have a direct impact on your yield. For example, common root rot typically results in a 10 to 12 per cent yield loss in cereals. If you are in a soil zone that suffers from insects such as wireworm, you may also choose to use an insecticide as well as a fungicide. A combination of both is often recommended for best protection. To get the best out of your crop and make the best product selections, get to know your field. Scout and dig up some plants to carefully assess the roots. You may also wish to split your field and experiment with a quarter section of land. By taking a careful look you might discover a difference that could add up to five or 10 bushels per acre over the year.

4. Proper fertilization

Proper fertilization can improve stand right from the beginning, and help you get your plant out of the ground as quickly as possible. The goal is to achieve nitrogen and potassium optimization. We use the word optimization because more is not necessarily better, as too much nitrogen will prune roots. To achieve the right balance, you need to properly assess your soil and its chemical levels — something a simple soil test can reveal. Retailers often offer tests and will make recommendations based on their assessment of residual fertility in your soil. Making informed choices based on this knowledge can help you ensure a healthy root system.

5. Weed control

If you’ve followed steps one through four, you’ve already done a lot to prevent and protect against weeds. Proper stand establishment and placement, along with protection from disease and insects, all help to control weeds. However, if and when weeds do occur, perhaps the most important factor is timing. Research, including studies by Clarence Swanton, professor in the Department of Plant Agriculture at the University of Guelph, suggests that the early presence of weeds can directly impact crop development. By reacting as soon as the weeds are spotted, you can minimize their impact on your crop.

In general, root protection is key when it comes to developing healthy, strong roots and a better plant stand. A comprehensive approach to agronomic practices, including smart root care practices, can help you get the best plant stand and ultimately best yield possible. And that means a greater return on investment for you.

Scott Ewert is the Seed Care crop manager with Syngenta Crop Protection Canada, Inc.

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