Evaluating Corn Roots

Happy roots equal happy plants – and greater yield potential

“When I see unevenness in a corn field, the first thing I think is root issues,” says Dana Harder, CCA. Dana is a Burrus Seed Field Agronomist who covers Missouri and west central Illinois. In a recent Burrus Seed YouTube video, Dana shared how to diagnose soil compaction and root health issues.

Soil compaction negatively affects corn root development and therefore, overall plant health. Poor roots cannot properly intercept key nutrients in the soil, both those immobile in the soil (phosphorus and potassium) and those mobile in the soil that roots need to chase down (nitrogen and sulfur). Without sufficient amounts of these key nutrients, plant stalk and ear development are significantly hampered.

Growers are advised to investigate corn roots in areas of concern prior to harvest. First, you can use a soil compaction tester or soil probe. Insert the probe between rows in an uneven section of the field. When the pressure needed to push the probe increases, remove the probe and measure where the tillage pan begins. Next, continue pushing through the pan to determine how deep the issue is.

Digging and rinsing roots can provide a look back in time at the corn plant’s development. In the video, Dana digs and compares the roots of a healthy plant and a compromised plant.

Dana’s tips to analyze roots:
  • Do your best to dig the plants with the entire root ball intact for a more accurate picture of the plant health.
  • Use two buckets of water to remove as much soil as possible from the root structure.
  • Peel back the stalks at the base of the plant to see the conditions at the time of planting to better understand root development.
  • Cut stalks and compare between healthy and compromised plants. Stalk diameter is proportional to cob diameter.

Doing your homework this year can help direct your decisions at planting next year. For optimal root health, growers need good planting conditions, deep tillage of areas showing unevenness now through harvest and to select hybrids with robust root systems. For help analyzing your corn root health or selecting hybrids to best fit your fields next year, contact your Burrus Seed Representative.

Burrus YouTube – Analyzing Corn Roots

Burrus Seed Field Agronomist Dana Harder, CCA examines corn root health.