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Syngenta expert panel talks root health: The underground of crop productivity

  • Panel of Syngenta and research leaders discussed the growing importance of root health
  • Root damage viewed as threat to high-yielding crop production
Greensboro, N.C., USA – An expert panel sponsored by Syngenta discussed how nibblers and killers are attacking roots to decrease crop productivity, which threatens farmers’ ability to feed the growing global population. To address this issue, Syngenta is partnering with researchers in the United States and around the world to investigate the role root health plays in future crop productivity.
During the 2012 Commodity Classic, “The Importance of Maximizing Yield from Below Ground” Learning Center sought to educate growers on the importance of root health and showcased experiences of leading U.S. researchers during a panel moderated by Chad Shelton, seedcare asset lead, Syngenta.  Panel members included: Glenn Bowers, Ph.D., global head, soybean breeding, Syngenta; Palle Pedersen, Ph.D., seedcare technology manager, Syngenta; Wayne Pedersen, Ph.D., emeritus plant pathologist, University of Illinois; and Kurt Schroeder, Ph.D., research associate, Washington State University.
“We have a huge challenge coming,” Palle Pedersen warned. “We will have to feed 9 billion people by 2050 with no more land to take into production. We at Syngenta see that roots are an important aspect to future crop productivity advancements. Presently, in most cases we are only getting 50 percent of the genetic yield potential. The root system is critical to maximizing yield.”
Pedersen attributed the ability to maximize yield to four factors. One revolves around timing, which includes when a farmer can plant crops and when he controls pests; activities that are often impacted by weather. Exposure to solar radiation is another factor impacting yield that growers are unable to control. The last two are nutrient and water intake, which start at the roots. By protecting roots and allowing them to establish healthy root systems, growers are able to help the crop better utilize nutrient and water resources.
Wayne Pedersen, reporting on 25 years of root health research, emphasized the validity of placing importance on root health. “Healthier root systems absolutely help plants better utilize available nutrients and moisture,” Pedersen explained. “In soybean crops, if you don’t have those lateral root branches that anchor the plant in the soil, you’re not going to get as good of nodulation as you would with a healthy root system.”
As Kurt Schroeder discussed his research findings, he warned that because the damage to roots happens below ground, it is difficult to see the effects. Crop yields are vulnerable to root nibblers like Rhizoctonia and Pythium. “Those nibblers just take a bit of the root here and there,” Schroeder explained. “The plant typically suffers reduced vigor, often resulting in a hit to the yield.”
Bowers advised an integrated approach to manage the various insects and diseases in order to maintain optimum root health. “We need to look at management approaches that include genetics, seed treatments and other practices to not only protect root health, but also protect the technologies,” Bowers said.
Syngenta scientists have found that effectively protecting crop roots from disease can have an enormous impact. As part of an ongoing commitment to root health and pest defense, Syngenta offers growers a diverse portfolio of leading seed treatments and has taken the initiative to develop new active ingredients specifically as seed treatments designed to improve root health. In addition to its current seed treatment products, Syngenta anticipates registration of a seed treatment fungicide with a new mode of action in 2012 that will help further maximize root health and yield potential.
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About Syngenta
Syngenta is one of the world's leading companies with more than 26,000 employees in over 90 countries dedicated to our purpose: Bringing plant potential to life. Through world-class science, global reach and commitment to our customers, we help to increase crop productivity, protect the environment and improve health and quality of life.  For more information about us, please go to
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