Rolling Rocks And Rootballs

Land rolling has been used for decades in alfalfa and grass seed production to improve germination and manage rocks. It’s now becoming a common practice in soybean fields throughout the Upper Midwest. Smoothing out the soil surface improves harvesting efficiency and reduces combine damage at harvest time from rocks and large debris. Rolling is usually done immediately before or after planting, but can also be done when the soybean plants are just a few inches tall. 

Jodi DeJong-Hughes is a crop Extension educator at the University of Minnesota. She says besides pushing down rocks, another advantage of rolling is breaking up corn root balls left over from the prior year.

"Especially if you have feed beans that you’re going to plant. If they come in too dirty, you can get docked for that," she says. "So rolling, what it does, is help prevent getting a lot of dirt into the combine."

You could roll every year if you till, because tillage brings up rocks, and the roller packs them back down. However, because you’re flattening out the soil like a pancake, rolling can increase wind erosion and cause other problems.

"It can pulverize your soil aggregates on the soil surface and make them into more like a powder, and then if you have a pounding rain storm, it can actually seal your soil. And that did happen to us on one of our research fields," she says. "It keeps water from infiltrating and then, you know, soybean plants can’t swim very long. In a couple of days, they’ll die out."

DeJong-Hughes says if you’re considering rolling, the improved harvesting conditions must be balanced with the damaging effects on soil quality, and the additional expense.

Learn more about rolling the soil