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How rolling barley for silage can affect yield

Farming Smarter Project

Project Timeline: March 2020- December 2020

Contact: Trevor Deering


The purpose of rolling barley is to push rocks into the soil so that the chopper header does not hit the rocks, avoiding damage to the equipment. However, there seems to be no common time to roll and it has been seen that rolling occurs at many different stages of crop growth. 

This project is to find out what the effects are at different stages of crop growth to see what stage of the crop would be recommended best for rolling barley


  • To investigate how rolling barley for silage impacts the yield when we roll the barley at different growth stages.
  • To make recommendations when to roll barley based on the data collected.


Locations: Lethbridge, AB

There are 7 treatments set up for this project:

  1. Untreated Check
  2. 1-3 days post-seed
  3. 1st leaf
  4. 2nd leaf
  5. 3rd leaf
  6. 4th leaf
  7. First node

The plots are 2.5m by 6m and each treatment is rolled only once in the same direction it was seeded. The barley, CDC Bow Barley, was seeded at 300 seeds/ m2. Then biomass samples (2 1m rows in the front and the back of each plot) will be taken for silage yield and then will be combined for seed yield. The average height of each plot will also be measured before harvesting.


Grain yield was the final data recorded for the trial, marking the successful completion of all data collection on August 16, 2020. No adverse weather events were encountered during crop growth. Throughout the growth of the crop and the rolling timings notes observations were gathered. Of importance it was noticed that the crop would lay down for 1-3 days after rolling except for the final rolling at the 1st node stage where the crop laid down for longer and appeared to be more stressed. The result of the stress at the 1st node timing did result in noticeable stunting of those plots. We measured the height of each plot 1 week before harvesting and there appeared to be a difference of 10 cm compared to the other plots. Also, it was recognized that there was more disease in 1st node timing plots, so we rated the plots on a scale of 0-10 (0=no disease at all and 10=whole plant infected). The disease rating showed more disease in the 1st node timing, there also appeared to be more senescence of the lower leaves during mid to late head development. We assessed the grade, protein and the TKW of the seed samples for each plot to determine the quality of the seed. With the data collected we were able to use ANOVA statistical methods using 0.05 significance level to determine significant differences between the treatments. Results show that there was statistical difference in the height of the plots, protein and TKW. The disease rating was not examined statistically due to the stark difference between treatmentsRolling at the 1st node stage (trt 7) showed significantly decreased height compared to all other treatments, on average a 10 cm stunting affect. The statistically significant decrease in height is not surprising and backs up our visual observations. This leads us to conclude that the physical damage done to the crop did affect the growth of the crop, however it was not enough to overcome the natural variability in the yield. We did not find statistically different yields across the treatments. We conducted plant counts after emergence to see if there was a difference in stand due to rolling prior to emergence (trt. 2) and we found no significant difference. This indicates that rolling shortly after seeding does not impact the emergence of the crop. Also, we found no negative affects when rolling at the 1st leaf, indicating that rolling any time after seeding into the 1st leaf does not cause damage to the corp. The 1st node rolling showed significantly decreased protein content in the seed and lower TKW. For protein, the 1st node was significantly lower than all other treatments except the 2nd leaf stage, and the 2-4 leaf stages were numerically less than the untreated to the 1st leaf stage. Both properties suggest lower seed quality that may impact the value of the seed. So, when should you roll your barley? There are two main consideration; to maximize yield potential and to reduce erosion. To maximize the yield potential of the crop it is best to roll your barley just after seeding and anytime in the leaf stages of the crop, but not once node development begins. Rolling in the node stages does result in damage to the crop that could lead to reduced crop health. Reduced crop health could result in decreased yields. Even though we did not see decreased yields in our study any activities that decrease overall crop health can lead to greater impacts on your bottom line. To decrease erosion, it is best to roll when there is good ground cover. Rolling after seeding before the 1st leaf stage is the highest erosion risk timing, therefore it should be ruled out. Rolling in the 21 node stages would present the least risk for erosion. We would not want to rely on rolling all fields in the 4th leaf stage because we would risk rolling into the 1st node stage. So, rolling from the 1-3 leaf stage would be the optimal window to roll to maximize yield potential and minimize erosion. Of course, if some fields are rolled into the 4th leaf stage that would be fine, but caution should be taken to avoid the 1st node stage. A very slight decrease in protein content can result when rolling in the 2-4 leaf stages however it is a small tradeoff to decrease erosion and maximize yield potential. For the TKW the 1st node was significantly lower than all other treatments.   More questions arise that could be researched in the future. Does rolling perpendicular to the seed rows lead to more damage? Does seeding rate make a difference? Does the crop respond to rolling by increasing tillering? Are there impacts to feed quality due to rolling? Stay tuned for future developments.


Check back in 2021 for this section.

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