Land rolling in row crops has increased over the past decade, and in some areas of the country, it has become routine. The main purpose of land rolling is to improve efficiency at harvest time and to reduce combine wear and tear. However, environmental and agronomic risks may occur with this practice.
Essential benefits of using a land roller are pushing down rocks into the soil and crushing dirt clods and corn root balls. Leveling the ground allows for a faster and easier harvest and reduces the potential for damaging combine guards, sickle sections or other costly mechanisms.
Other advantages to rolling harvested corn fields include eliminating stubble, which decreases damage to tires, and flattening the corn, which helps accelerate microbial degradation and decomposition. Rolling fields prior to planting corn prevents the row units from bouncing around, enabling better seed placement for a more even stand. Land rolling soybean fields after planting allows for lowering the header closer to the ground, which may slightly increase yield. It can also decrease the amount of dirt taken in by the combine for a cleaner harvest and potential added premiums.
The most serious disadvantage of rolling is the impact on soil quality. Soil surface aggregates are destroyed, increasing the potential for soil sealing and erosion. Rolling also causes a reduction in water infiltration, which increases soil runoff and contributes to further erosion.
Degradation of soil and diminished water quality are not the only risks. Potential nutrient loss is also a concern, particularly phosphorus and nitrogen in the spring, thereby effecting yield. Other drawbacks may arise, such as soil compaction, increased weed seed germination, and crop seedling damage may occur if rolling is conducted after emergence. Under wet, humid conditions, postemergent rolling may also lead to spreading diseases across fields.
While rolling can improve harvest conditions, the negative impacts to soil and water quality should not be overlooked. The best way to benefit from rolling is to mitigate the risks. Consider rolling only those areas that contain rocks or flat fields with low erosion risk. If rolling soybean fields after emergence, roll prior to the third trifoliate to minimize plant injury. This can allow more time for plant recovery. However, it is best to avoid rolling corn after plant emergence. Additionally, avoid rolling wet fields as this may result in soil crusting or sealing and rolling when soybean plants are damp because plants may stick to the roller and may be pulled out of the ground.
Carlson, G., Clay, D., and Reitsma, K. 2019. iGrow Corn Best Management Practices, Chapter 12: Land Rolling Corn Fields, South Dakota State University Extension.
DeJong-Hughes, J., Holen, D., and Glogoza, P. 2012. Management Considerations for Rolling Soybean in the Upper Midwest, University of Minnesota Extension. https://pierce.extension.wisc.edu/files/2010/11/Ground-Rolling-in-the-MidWest.pdf
Web sites verified 9/17/2020
Performance may vary, from location to location and from year to year, as local growing, soil and weather conditions may vary. Growers should evaluate data from multiple locations and years whenever possible and should consider the impacts of these conditions on the grower’s fields.
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