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Root Matters looks to get more from delving under the surface

Root matters spade dig
16 worms a spade spells healthy soils according to Phil Jarvis at the GWCT's Loddington farm, where he welcomed the first Root Matters growers' meeting, to review his rooting trials and other sustainable agriculture research work on the site

Root Matters is taking a group of growers on a journey to discover more about root growth and how to influence it – drawing on a combination of science and research, along with trials on their own farms.

“The ultimate restraints on growth and plant productivity are sunlight and water. Growers are very accomplished at maximising sunlight capture through managing the crop canopy above ground. But the problem with encouraging roots is that you can’t easily monitor progress, and any issues can be masked,” according to Syngenta Technical Manager, Dave King.

Root Matters farmers in discussion

“Establishing a good root structure in what could be challenging conditions is under greater scrutiny as growers look to manage black-grass and BYDV through later drilling and cultural methods,” he believed.

“Stronger rooting is the key to delivering more tillers, more ears/m2 and ultimately more yield.”

That’s the aim of Root Matters, a joint initiative from Syngenta and CPM magazine. Working with a core group of growers, its objective is to unearth some of the secrets of how roots develop, and bring to the surface expert advice and relevant research that’ll help improve crop growth.

What do the growers want to achieve from Root Matters?

Phil Jarvis, Director of Farming at The Allerton Trust, Loddington is using his Root Matters trial and other Syngenta projects on the farm to look at the interaction of different tillage systems with seed dressings, and what it does to root growth.

Phil Jarvis - Allerton Trust GWCT

“There’s a lot we don’t understand about what goes on beneath the soil surface, because we’ve been so concerned with getting it right above ground. Now margins are tighter, yields have plateaued and it’s not enough just to consider the crop canopy,” he said.

Phil highlighted that monitoring progress through the season may be a challenge, though. It’s easy enough to compare yield, size of plant and growth above ground, and he’ll use a penetrometer to assess any differences in soil structure.

“But a true picture will only come from digging up plants and comparing roots, which may be more time-consuming.”

John Haynes - Essex farmer

In Essex, John Haynes of MJ and SC Collins, plans to trial new high-yielding Group 4 wheat Shabras, dressed with Vibrance Duo, against one of his other wheat varieties with a standard seed treatment.

“It’s gone into a really difficult field where we know the soil structure is poor, and it’s been drilled late – so it will be a real test of how to use the new technologies and the impact it could have,” he said.

On the Whittingehame Estate in East Lothian, Scotland, Chris Leslie is also bringing Beret Gold (fludioxonil) into his comparison, and intends to find out whether Vibrance Duo makes a difference on his late-drilled Grafton.

Chris Leslie - East Lothian farmer

“The variety can be a bit shy to tiller, so it’s worth exploring what can be done below ground to encourage it,” he commented.

Visit the Root Matters webpages for more information

Read the first of the CPM magazine Root Matters features here