More and more research is pointing to roots as holding the key to future crop productivity advancements. In fact, Nature published an article last year focusing on how plant breeders are looking at roots to unearth secrets to higher yield with minimal environmental impact. And Syngenta held a forum with international researchers earlier this year to discuss roots and root health.

But what does that mean for what growers are doing today and during the next season before these advancements are realized? While plant breeders are looking at these hidden jewels to reap dividends down the road in the form of improved varieties, researchers at Syngenta are applying this knowledge now through seed treatment advancements it anticipates will hit some crop markets for the 2012 use season.

"Syngenta scientists around the globe have been busy analyzing the interactions between roots, diseases, moisture efficiency and nutrient utilization," reports Christian Schlatter, global business manager for Syngenta Seedcare.

"It's been an amazing discovery process. We are learning that a simple act like effectively protecting crop roots from disease can have an enormous impact by unlocking greater potential within the root system. Root systems are more robust and can more efficiently utilize moisture and nutrients to produce healthier, stronger stems and foliage that better withstand environmental stress. And ultimately, that leads to improved yield potential. This link between stronger roots and higher yield potential is called Rooting Power™," Schlatter elaborates.

Syngenta Seedcare scientists aren't the only ones linking Rooting Power to better crop performance. Dr. Wayne Pedersen, emeritus plant pathologist, University of Illinois, has been using root scanners to assess root health in corn for several years. With root scanners, he can actually quantify the number of root tips produced by each plant and asses the overall health of the root systems.

"Healthier root systems absolutely help plants better utilize available nutrients and moisture," Pedersen explains. "This helps produce stronger plants that are able to withstand stress brought on by adverse weather conditions, disease and insects. 2010 is a great case in point. We had great early-season moisture and growth, which produced strong, healthy root systems and plant stands. But then Illinois went completely dry and remained that way for a good majority of the summer. The stronger root systems helped carry the plants through the dry spell without compromising yield."

Root Health and Reduced Tillage
Researchers also are finding links between the need for seed treatments to create healthier root systems under reduced tillage environments, particularly in the Pacific Northwest where winter wheat is an important crop.

"A healthy root system is particularly important in no-till operations," explains Dr. Richard Smiley, professor of plant pathology at Oregon State University. "No-till winter wheat is planted later in the fall than wheat planted in cultivated fields. This means there is less time for the crop to emerge and develop a healthy stand before winter dormancy. It also means cooler temperatures, which are conducive to Pythium development. For these reasons, we always recommend seed treatments to growers in this region."

Pedersen also has found seed treatments to be an excellent tool in helping to protect root systems.

"Seed treatment fungicides, like Apron XL, do a great job of creating a barrier against root diseases like Pythium. Dividend Extreme seed treatment fungicide is number one in small grains and provides excellent protection against Rhizoctonia and Fusarium, as well as other root rots," Pedersen explains.

"An added benefit is that you can apply Cruiser seed treatment insecticide at the same time, which protects against damaging root feeders and also helps stimulate plant growth and increase crop vigor, even under stressful conditions. That combination really helps to improve the health of the roots and plants, which ultimately leads to increased yield potential," Pedersen adds.

Syngenta researchers are finding that an experimental fungicide in the Syngenta development pipeline, by its new mode-of-action, creates a new unmatched level of disease protection. This results in stronger, more powerful roots that help produce more even emergence, improve nutrient and moisture uptake, and develop stronger plants. As a result, they are finding that crops are better able to withstand the stresses of the growing season to deliver higher yields and quality. By continuing to invest in new technologies that can help improve disease protection and enhance Rooting Power, Syngenta is helping growers achieve improved crop performance and maximum yield potential.

"By combining our worldwide expertise with the capabilities of the Syngenta Seedcare Institute, Syngenta is poised to provide growers new technology that will extend the spectrum of disease control while maximizing the performance of the roots," Schlatter says. "Our efforts to enhance disease control are producing more roots and stronger root systems that ensure better uptake and use of soil resources plus improved stress tolerance, particularly in challenging climates. As a result, growers will achieve greater yield stability across their fields."