Agronomy Library > Soil Conservation

The Rewards and Risks of Using a Land Roller
Author: Rick Taillieu, Reduced Tillage LINKAGES
Date Created: July 03, 2002
Last Reviewed: February 22, 2007

The use of land rollers in annual crop production continues to increase as farmers reap the rewards at harvest time. However, if land rolling is not done correctly it also dramatically increases the risk of soil erosion and related damage to the emerging crop.

The greatest benefit from land rolling comes from being able to improve harvest efficiency. Land rolling will push the majority of the rocks back into the soil, thus allowing farmers to harvest closer to the surface. Land rolling also helps smooth out the field for subsequent operations like spraying. Growers of pulse crops like field peas often need to harvest close to the ground to maximize yield. Pulse crops are often short where it is dry and lodging can be a problem where it is wet. Similarly, feedlot operators want to be able to maximize tonnage by harvesting the optimum amount of silage crops by swathing very close to the ground. In these cases, land rollers will help reduce the risk of picking up rocks or putting excessive soil through the combine or forage harvester.

Land rolling can be a major cause of soil erosion when done prior to crop emergence. Every tillage operation contributes to breaking down soil particle size and leaves less protective residue on the surface. Land rollers can pulverize the soil especially under dry conditions. Without any anchored stubble to slow the surface wind speed, these small soil particles blow very easily. The same field under wet conditions will also have a lower water infiltration rate making it highly susceptible to water erosion in the absence of surface protection.

The best way to benefit from rolling, while reducing the risk of soil erosion, is to direct seed. Land rolling is widely used by farmers who are reducing their tillage. The stubble must be anchored in order to slow down the wind speed near the soil surface. Direct seeding increases soil organic matter, soil aggregate size, and field water infiltration rates. Make planning your stubble part of planning your crop rotation. Ensure that land that will be rolled will still be protected.

For producers who aren’t direct seeding the best way to reduce their risks from rolling is to be patient. They should strongly consider waiting for crop emergence before rolling. Peas for example can be rolled up to the six node stage. Rolling after the dew is off and before the heat of the day can reduce physical damage to the crop. Rolling of crops that may already be stressed from a recent herbicide application should be delayed for a few days to allow the plants to recover. There is some risk of spreading disease by post emergent rolling under wet, humid conditions. Consider not rolling the field from corner to corner. Avoid erosion prone land like hilltops and field margins that are often the starting points of wind and water erosion.