Land-rolling soybeans in 2013

Using land rollers in soybean production has advantages and disadvantages. Here are recommendations for reducing the adverse conditions created by land rolling.

The use of land rollers for soybean production has increased in Michigan. The main benefit realized by rolling soybean ground is improved harvest conditions. Rolling pushes stones into the soil and crushes soil clods and corn root balls, reducing the potential for combine damage during harvest operations.

I saw this demonstrated first-hand at a soybean harvest equipment field day near Owosso, Mich., in 2011 where some of the ground was rolled and some areas were not. In the first 500 feet of the first harvest pass in the unrolled area, a medium-sized stone broke a guard on the cutter bar. Stones similar in size to the culprit were pushed into the soil in the rolled areas. I also noticed that the stones in the unrolled ground caused small harvest losses when the cutter bar rode over them, leaving un-harvested pods in the field.

Other benefits of rolling include less combine operator fatigue, slightly faster groundspeeds and less soil contamination of the harvested seed (an important consideration for seed producers). However, rolling has not affected soybean yield in numerous research trials conducted in Iowa, Minnesota and North Dakota. A 2012 trial conducted in Gratiot County by Michigan State University Extension and the Michigan Soybean Checkoff program produced similar results. The field was rolled prior to emergence.

The disadvantages of land-rolling include: higher production costs, potential plant damage, increased soil erosion and reduced water infiltration. Some of these adverse conditions can be mitigated by careful and judicial use of land rollers. The following recommendations were extracted from the University of Minnesota Extension publication “Management Considerations for Rolling Soybean in the Upper Midwest.”

  • Restrict rolling operations to rocky and flat fields.
  • Roll emerged soybeans as early as possible, but before the V3 growth stage.
  • Roll emerged plants in the afternoon to reduce plant injury.
  • Roll erosion-prone fields after the plants reach the V1 growth stage.
  • Avoid rolling when the plants are wet as they will stick to the drums and be pulled from the soil.
  • Avoid rolling when the soil is moist to reduce the potential for soil sealing and reducing infiltration rates.

Producers will have an excellent opportunity to see how land-rolling affects harvest operations by participating in the 2013 Soybean Harvest Equipment Field Day near Martin, Mich. The date of the field day has not been set, but we are targeting the last week of September. Look for an article posted in MSU Extension News for Field Crops around August promoting the field day. The field day will also be listed online on the MSU Extension Events Calendar in early July.

This article was produced by the SMaRT project (Soybean Management and Research Technology). The SMaRT project was developed to help Michigan producers increase soybean yields and farm profitability. The SMaRT project is a partnership between MSU Extension and the Michigan Soybean Checkoff program.

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