Moisture Stress and Root Potentials!

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Published November 19, 2012 | By admin


Image: Mike Petersen (digging), Jeff Tichota (Monsanto TDR he is pointing) teaching others about root uptake and root architecture. 2011


As I continue to be an inquiring student of roots in crops we grow here and abroad, I am discovering the complexity of root/shoot water and ion uptake is fascinating. Moisture is brought into the root cells by radial osmotic suction if you will. Much like a vortex of the drain in your shower or tub. The root is able to pull that up to a certain radius from the root depending upon plant respiration above ground instigated by the leaf stomata. Messages are relayed via the phloem and xylem conduits and the effect is to put it simply – drink. Now there are limitations how much can the plant root pull water to itself. As the potential gradient is reached between the root and soil surrounding it, the plant regulates its water movement by ABA (Abscisic acid) C15H20O4 which come from the roots and root tip regions and ABA from the stomata.


In times of water stress (which we had near countless days of this summer) cell-to-cell movement of water movement will change a lot.  It is this scientists conjecture that having more root tissue, longer and larger root systems cell water movement can supply the above ground plant water much better than a plant with less root overall length.  It seems to this scientist after exposing 1200+ root pits and studying whats down there under the surface, a larger root profile, actual more root numbers and linear inches for large structured plants like that of corn, they have a greater chance of not only survival but production of grain.


This year we saw what I just explained become a reality in corn in specific rooting studies we conducted at the Irrigation Research Farm – Yuma, CO; Monsanto’s Water Utilization Learning Center near Gothenburg, NE; and at the Orthman Research Farms.  Corn with deeper, longer and more root numbers made more kernels per ear than those not as healthy of root producing plants.


Since my studies of rooting, root structure started back in 1981 (and still going on) I am fascinated at what goes on and feel it is important to pass on new information and findings.  As we consider the next growing season, it is apparent that having the right root system associated with your corn, soybeans, dry beans, and other crops has everything to do with you having yield or just plant growth and no grain.  We saw that dramatically in 2012 and then plants withered to nothing in August and was either a failure, cut for feed or a viable but reduced crop yield.  We are most likely in for another warmer than normal season in 2013 – what will you choose for a conservation tillage method, proper hybrid, population, weed control system that can ensure a crop that can go to market?  Consider your “roots” seems right at the top of the list to us.


by: Mike Petersen, Lead Agronomist with Orthman Mfg., Inc.




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