Renewable Farming

How do your corn roots at the five to six leaf stage compare with these?

These photos arrived May 26 from Indiana grower Hal Brown. Planting date was May 2. We’ve never met a farmer who knows as much about root biology as Hal. He’s experienced with cover crops and no-till, too. His experience confirms: It takes an integrated system of biologically enhancing practices and products to create living synergism in the soil. 

May 28, 2018 — Our own field trials and greenhouse root-growing experience show benefits of giving emerging roots beneficial bacteria and fungi either on the seed or in the furrow. But as Hal Brown observes, those applications are “minuscule” compared to natural organisms encouraged by multi-species cover crops, greatly reduce tillage or no-till, and freedom from microbe-killing chemicals.

For several years, Hal marketed microbial blends which he labeled Arouse and Crescendo, and he also had a seed treatment formulation trademarked Seednique. International Ag Labs of Fairmont, MN, retailed them. When Hal’s source lab discontinued the products because ag sales were small relative to remedial markets, Doc Skow of International Ag Labs went on a global search for an equally effective biological. He never found one. 

In recent years, Hal has “brewed” batches of his own biologicals on the farm each spring, checking populations of microbes under a microscope. They’re for in-furrow application with his no-till planter. Maintaining species purity and consistency takes great care. We learned that when we had a biological trial with WakeUP become invalid in an excellent lab — the University of Nebraska — because the microbe mix was invaded by a foreign species. 

The roots shown here are thick, vigorous and laced with multiple root hairs. We have assumed that the species mix in Hal’s Soil Soup is proprietary, so we haven’t asked him, “How to you make that stuff?”  Point is, there’s not one magic microbe. A buildup of healthy soil biological activity takes time. 

We’ve discussed mycorrhizae extensively. But Hal notes that helpful mycorrhizal fungi are active only on living roots. That’s why cover crops of varying species can help build the foundation of fungal and bacterial species ready to break dormancy and begin mobilizing soil nutrients for living roots.


We asked Hal to split a stalk so we could see how well the root crown has resisted disease invasion. Often, the xylem tubes start turning brown and plugging as early as the four to six leaf stage. The presence of vigorous, beneficial organisms helps fend off the pathogens. In the split stalk above, you can see the pith is white and healthy, capable of carrying nutrients in large volumes for the rapid gro wth season just ahead.