Although it’s difficult to execute, several researchers are under-taking the laborious task of exploring how root health ultimately impacts yield potential. Consistently wet weather in recent years coupled with the upsurge in adoption of reduced tillage programs has increased the presence of certain yield-robbing, soilborne pathogens, such as Rhizoctonia, Pythium and Fusarium, in critical U.S. wheat-producing regions.
“These root diseases can be referred to as ‘root nibblers,’ or hidden diseases and can have a huge impact on yield potential,” explains Dr. Wayne Pedersen, emeritus plant pathologist, University of Illinois. “Incidence of these soilborne pathogens has increased steadily with evolving production practices, such as no-till, and the cool, wet weather we’ve experienced the past several spring seasons.”
While growers tend to fix their attention to production challenges that pose a significant yield threat, researchers are becoming more attuned to the long-term threat from Rhizoctonia, Pythium and Fusarium, which can “pick away” at yield and profit potential little by little with each passing season.
It’s important to ensure cereal crops are protected against these yield-robbing root diseases. “Seed treatment fungicides, like Apron XL®, do a great job of creating a barrier against root diseases like Pythium. Dividend Extreme® seed treatment fungicide is number one in small grains and provides excellent protection against Rhizoctoniaand Fusarium, as well as other root rots,” Pedersen explains.
“An added benefit is that you can apply Cruiser® seed treatment insecticide at the same time, which protects against damaging root feeders, like wireworms, and also helps stimulate plant growth and increase crop vigor, even under stressful conditions. That combination really helps to improve the health of the roots and plants, which ultimately leads to increased yield potential,” Pedersen adds.
Keeping developing seedlings free of diseases and insects enables healthier root systems to develop because the root tips more efficiently take up water and nutrients. “Roots are water-absorbers for plants, so increasing root mass, area and number of root tips subsequently increases the moisture uptake of the plant, which thereby increases the health of the plant,” Pedersen explains.
Dr. Pedersen has been using root scanners to assess root health in corn for several years. With root scanners, he can actually quantify the number of root tips produced by each plant and assess the overall health of the root systems. He plans to conduct some of the same research in small grains in the near future.
“Healthier, more robust root systems absolutely help plants better utilize available nutrients and moisture,” Pedersen adds. “This helps produce stronger plants that are able to withstand stress brought on by adverse weather conditions, disease and insects. 2010 is a great case in point. We had great early-season moisture and growth, which produced strong, healthy root systems and plant stands. But then Illinois went completely dry and remained that way for a good majority of the summer. The stronger root systems helped carry the plants through the dry spell without compromising yield.”
Syngenta researchers are also delving further into research that correlates healthier root systems to increased yield potential. A new experimental seed treatment fungicide is set to be registered later this year and will offer a new, unmatched level of disease protection through its new mode of action. This results in stronger, more powerful roots that help produce more even emergence, improve nutrient and moisture uptake, and develop stronger plants, which ultimately leads to increased yield and profit potential for growers.