U.S. Department of Agriculture: Agricultural Research Service, Lincoln, Nebraska


Date of this Version

November 1987


Published in Agron. J. 79: 160-165 (1 987).


The effects of conservation-tillage practices on the root environment of corn (Zea mays L.) may differ with varying amounts of irrigation. Dryland, 50% irrigation, and 100% irrigation treatments were applied in combination with disc, no-tillage, and a postemergence chisel treatment designed to allow rapid infiltration of irrigation water. The study was conducted during the 1980 growing season at the Nebraska Agricultural Experiment Station near Mead, NE, on a Sharpsburg silty clay loam (fine, montmorillonitic, mesic Typic Argiudolls). Root samples were taken to 1.50 m in 0.15-m increments. Sampling was done at 60 (V8), 77 (V14), and 90 (R2) days after planting. Root length per soil volume as a function of depth from the soil surface was characterized using hybrid B73 X Mo17. Root length exhibited linear and often quadratic distribution over sampling depths at all sampling dates. The 100% irrigation treatment exhibited greatest total profile (0- to 1.5-m) and surface (0- to 0.15-111) root length at R2. Dryland and 50% irrigation treatments were associated with relatively greater root length proliferation deep in the soil profile. Differences in root length distribution were not as pronounced at stages V8 and V14. Chisel and no-tillage treatments, with crop residues at the soil surface, resulted in greater surface (0- to 0.15-m) and total profile root length than discing. Corn roots tended to explore the lower profile to a greater extent under water stress conditions. This phenomenon, in conjunction with soil water conservation by no-tillage methods, may allow irrigators to increase water-use efficiency by better use of stored soil moisture.