Deep Roots Essential To Reach Moisture In Sandy Soil

Corn roots 10 feet long pull up moisture in the hills Bill Darrington no-tills in western Iowa.

When corn roots grow strong and stretch beyond 8½ feet deep, you must be doing something right.

Just ask no-tiller Bill Darrington of Persia, Iowa, who gave up digging a soil pit at 8½ feet and estimated the roots reached 10 feet deep. Good roots produce good yields in the fine, wind-blown soil in the hills just east of the Missouri River. Winds suck the moisture out the loess soil, he says.

“I’ve got to have a massive root system because when we dry out, we dry out deep,” Darrington says. “We all understand the importance of root depth and root penetration. The question I had is how do we create the environment to get root systems and biology down to those productive zones.”

Years ago, pure no-till was Darrington’s first option, but water and residue still moved on the steep hills. Vertical tillage with a subsoiler to break compaction helped pave the way for deep root growth, Darrington says.

“Ray Rawson says if you want to double the size of your farm, farm vertically,” says Darrington, referring to the zone-tillage pioneer from Michigan. “And that’s what we’re trying to achieve primarily as no-tillers: build that soil balance and soil health and drive that root down.”

Darrington primarily no-tills and strip-tills, but occasionally conventionally tills.

“The way I really look at my operation is I’m a stress manager,” Darrington says. “I look at what the requirements are from year to year to deal with the soil or the environmental conditions…

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